Ahhh, the snow has melted, the hummingbirds have returned, the bears are turning over trash cans and soon you won’t have to drive 20 mph through school zones. We must be approaching summer, which means that children all over Colorado will be freed from the drudgery of being trapped inside classrooms and can retreat to their bedrooms where, for the next two to three months they can play video games, watch television and text incessantly.
With technology allowing 24-hour media access to children and teens, the amount of time young people spend connected to multi-media has risen dramatically. According to a study recently released by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 8- to 18-year-olds devote an average of seven hours and 38 minutes per day using entertainment media.
When kids are not “media multi-tasking” during the summer, their parents have structured every other minute of their lives with organized sports and activities conceived and controlled by adults. The result may well be that we are raising a generation of children who will be poorly socialized to live in the real world as adults.
So here’s a novel idea for this summer – why not let, or even force your children to play outside on their own?
I know this is a radical concept but there are some compelling reasons for children to interact with nature and create their own reality. Research shows that children that spend time in nature are simply physically, mentally and emotionally healthier.
Pediatric care providers are particularly tuned-in to the problem of reduced time for unstructured play. They’ve known for a long time that getting children outdoors and moving not only burns calories, thereby lowering the risk of childhood obesity, but also offers a multitude of other benefits.
A report by the American Academy of Pediatrics states that free and unstructured play is healthy and, in fact, essential in helping children reach important social, emotional and cognitive development milestones.
Unstructured play encourages children to develop logical thinking, improves their ability to reason, allows them to stretch their imagination and explore their interests and encourages them to take risks. And when kids spend time outdoors with their peers, it gives them the opportunity to build the kind of social skills they need to forge healthy friendships throughout life.
If that’s not motivation enough to open the front door and push your kids outside, researchers tell us that “nature smart” children have heightened sensory skills. Outdoor experiences help develop our children’s sense of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Simply put, nature-connected kids tend to pay more attention to the world around them.
And finally, there is of course the overwhelming American problem of childhood obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 20 percent of children ages 6 to 11 and 18 percent of adolescents ages 12 to 19 are obese. The antidote is obvious – move more and sit less. It’s hard to play outdoors and not move.
So, how do you get your kids to play outside? There are two simple steps:
* The first step is to set limits on how much access your children have to their computer, cell phone and television. This will obviously be a battle but remember – you’re the parent.
* Secondly, I give you permission to use the mantra my mother used for my two sisters and me every summer when she would open the front door: “Go outside and play and don’t come back until I call your name!”