With summer just around the corner, now is the time to soak up ideal outdoor conditions. Perhaps by increasing your visits to local swimming holes, beaches, parks, or planning a camping trip. And now that your kids are slipping into the casual routines of their summer vacations, the transition of having them home more often may feel like a bumpy ride. Are cartoon networks or video games filling in the void of a more relaxed schedule? Easy as it is to increase screen time, it may not be as helpful in creating a peaceful summer as you think. Read on to discover the importance of outdoor activities in creating a more meaningful summer for you and your family.
Screen Time Versus Being Outdoors
The first iPhone debuted in 2007 and since then, exposure to screens worldwide has multiplied exponentially. Once the pandemic hit, screen use skyrocketed even more, with a study from the University of California San Francisco reporting that its use by US adolescents doubled once COVID lockdowns began. Children between the ages of 12 and 13 viewed screens for about 3.8 hours per day before the pandemic, but their non-school-related viewing rose to 7.7 hours a day by May of 2020. Another survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control found that a child is 6 times more likely to play a video game on a typical day than to ride a bike. Children weren’t the only ones to increase their screen time usage – as recent research revealed a 50 to 70% increase in overall internet use during 2020 and of that time, 50% of it was spent engaging on social media. That’s a lot of screen time scrolling on TikTok! It is important to note that children living in lower-income neighborhoods are more susceptible to increases in screen time as parental concerns about crime and safety prevent many children from playing outdoors, a lack of financial resources can prevent parents from affording more expensive activities, and increased urbanization in low-income neighborhoods leads to less places to play and connect with nature in the first place.
Is Screen Time All That Bad?
The debate on the one hand argues that increased digital device usage – especially during COVID lockdowns – through social media, messaging applications and video conference platforms, kept people connected, able to purchase necessary items from the safety of their own homes, aware of the latest pandemic surges, and socializing safely. Without digital technology, even more of the nation’s economy would have come to a standstill and perhaps even more deaths would have occurred. It was pivotal in keeping children educated and many people employed. However, the countervailing argument is that though these avenues of communicating and entertaining were preferred during a global health crisis, continued use when COVID has died down could be harmful. Adverse health effects of digital device use have been reported such as eye strain, near-sightedness in children, sleep disorders, and carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as mental health problems including anxiety and depression – amongst adolescents and adults. Another huge impact of excessive screen time is its link to obesity. More sedentary time streaming movies, playing video games, and scrolling through Instagram posts leads to less physical activity, as well as snacking while distracted, both of which are linked with obesity. Studies show that the amount of screen usage a child engages in per week directly correlates with their measure of body fat and during the pandemic, the national obesity rate among kids between 2 to 19 years old increased from 19.3% in 2019 to 22.5% in 2020. It’s easy to see why setting down and turning off digital devices after work or school and creating parameters around screen usage during weekends is becoming more important than ever.
The Benefits of Forest Bathing for Adults and Kids
The term “forest bathing” or shinrin-yoku in Japanese, became popular after the publication of the book Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, written by Japanese medical doctor Qing Li. Doctor Li lives in Tokyo, one of the most populated cities in the world, and he conducted a study (one of many) on whether forest bathing could improve sleep patterns among middle-aged Tokyo office workers who suffered from insomnia due to high levels of stress. During the study, the office workers walked in either a forest or a non-forested setting on a normal working day. After walking in the forest, participants were significantly less anxious, and they slept better, as well as longer. Indeed, Dr. Li’s studies are supported by other research which shows that increased greenspace exposure is associated with decreased levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, as well as lowered blood pressure and cholesterol, slowing of the heart rate, and reduction in type II diabetes, stroke, and coronary heart disease symptoms.
Greenspace exposure also has an impressive impact on children’s cognitive and motor functioning – including increased concentration and social interaction, greater attention spans, higher academic performance, and enhanced motor coordination. A study involving low-income African American children from public housing projects in urban Chicago indicated that children living in apartment buildings with views of trees and greenspace demonstrated greater attention capacities and impulse control than similar children living in apartments devoid of natural views. A second study focusing on urban Midwestern children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder compared their concentration levels after playing in natural areas versus playing video games indoors. The children were able to concentrate, complete tasks, and follow directions much better after playing outdoors than they were after playing on digital devices.
Why are leisure walks in the woods or casual play near trees and rocks so beneficial to us, regardless of our age? Perhaps because of the higher concentrations of oxygen that exist in these spaces, especially compared to urban settings, as well as the presence of plant chemicals called phytoncides, which are antibacterial and antifungal chemicals that plants exhibit that help them ward off diseases. Exposure to phytoncides has been shown to increase human immunity as well by increasing lymphocyte activity – blood cells that limit the growth of several types of tumors and microbial infections.
Another Way to Wind Down
Decreasing screen time doesn’t have to be a stressful experience – especially if you show your kids how interesting being outdoors can be by providing fun games or activities for them to enjoy while you hustle them out the door into the sunshine. If your children see you making it a priority to be outside, it sends them an important message. Though a camping trip may be a bit too expensive, too remote, or time-intensive for your schedule, there are easier options. Grilling in a park for dinner, spending some time in your backyard with a frisbee, or taking the family dog to a dog park are all wonderful steps toward accessing the obesity-reducing and stress-buffering effects that nature provides. After a hectic day at work or daycare, allowing your kids to run around in a playground surrounded by trees gives them a chance to release some steam and gives you a chance to breathe. Besides playing outdoors, another powerful ally for bringing on a sense of calm in your kids is with some Children’s Wind Down Glycerite. This soothing herbal blend of Catnip, Lemon Balm, Chamomile, Passionflower, Linden, and Lavender is kid-friendly and tasty, too – with the glycerite adding a sweet flavor that kids love. Wait, there’s Catnip in this blend? You may be surprised to know that it is not just for cats! The chemical compound in it that cats react so strongly to is called nepetalactone – which in humans produces a mood-boosting effect that is quite relaxing, reducing restlessness and nervousness. Lemon Balm adds a lovely citrusy flavor to this herbal blend, but it also tranquilizes the nervous system and can be combined with Chamomile to calm whining, crying, colicky or teething children. Indeed, the two herbs are perfect for addressing nervous indigestion at any age. Passionflower contains gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an inhibitory neurotransmitter that counters overexcited neurons, creating a mildly sedating effect. Linden acts in a similar way to Passionflower, mimicking GABA receptors and impeding feelings of excitability. Lavender is well known for its relaxing properties, making it a perfect fit to complete this melody of relaxing and soothing herbs. Equipped with some Children’s Wind Down Glycerite and regular outdoor time with your kids can help to create a more meaningful, engaging summer season this year – one that balances technology with face-to-face interactions and allows you and your family to spend active, memory-building time together.