Nature’s Benefits: Intervention for Children of the Couch

It should be no surprise to many parents (regardless of your child’s age) that this generation of youth are increasingly hooked on technology. More specifically, our kids are hooked on their game consoles, iPads and Android tablets, iPhones and smartphones, and computers. This generation of youth are now the Children of the Couch (i.e., mini-couch potatoes for the visually inclined). I used to tell myself that I would never let my sons grow up that way since I myself grew up playing outside and getting scraped up and dirty with all the neighborhood kiddos. Sadly, I realized that my oldest son had become addicted to his technology.

Last week I attended a church reunion event with one of my sons. In an effort to keep him relatively quiet while us grown-ups went about our business, I decided to give my son his tablet. He happily began playing his educational games at first, but then quickly moved into the every-so-popular “Minion Rush” game he has now mastered at level 10. There were several children there who grew antsy over being indoors for the first hour of our reunion, and soon two of our younger church members took the children (most of which ranged in age from 5 to 9 years old) outside to play soccer and have a friendly game of freeze tag. I thought this was wonderful, and told Robert, my son, that he should play outside with the other children. My sweet and seemingly innocent boy simply said, “No, Mommy. I want to play my game.”

I was stunned, and a little disappointed. Even if my child knew some of the kids, he chose to spend time alone with his tablet. Later that evening, I sat my son down and asked him if he didn’t have the tablet that day if he would have gone out to play. He said he would. My husband and I have now limited his “tablet time” to once on the weekends and once during the school week, and only for an hour each day.

While I understand the importance of teaching our kids how to use technology, especially when it is used so often in their schools, I still believe in the value of playing outside and simply “being a kid.” You can’t really be a kid if your face is always stuck in front of some touch screen or computer monitor or watching a video game. Learning about the world around us through the innocence of youth means getting out there and exploring, touching nature and digging up worms and bugs, running in the sunshine or even in the rain. All these are experiences that adults in my generation grew up knowing and it is being lost to the wonderful world of technology and instantaneous information retrieval.

An article on WellnessMama.com cites the health benefits of being in nature, all of which I can agree with and want to encourage parents to practice (see full article at http://wellnessmama.com/56086/health-benefits-of-nature). Here are a few of my favorites from the article and the reason I hope to be outdoors more often:

  1. Exposure to Vitamin D producing sunlight. Yes, you can get Vitamin D supplements from any health store, but the most immediate and inexpensive form of getting this vitamin is by stepping outside and soaking in some sunlight for as little as 15 to 20 minutes.
  2. Fresh air. The article cites that indoor air is at least 70% more contaminated than outdoor air, and that’s saying a lot for anyone living in the suburbs or in the city.
  3. Eye health. Children and adults who spend increased amounts of time indoors have a limited view of things, and the distance between objects varies little. By being outdoors in nature, children and adults alike are able to see a wide array of colors, objects of different shapes and sizes, and distances (near and far). Doing “eye” exercises outdoors actually helps your vision in the long run, and gives your eyes a rest from the ordinary and mundane of indoor life and lighting.
  4. Developing healthy Circadian Rhythms, which may help reduce the risk of obesity. The idea here is that the more sunlight you get (especially in the morning), the more your body’s natural cortisol levels are healthier and your thyroid health improves. The study also recommends, however, that we get enough “dark sleep” at night so as not to interrupt the body’s rhythm to take in natural light. In other words, sleep with the lights off, and spend more time outside in the earlier hours of the day.

My own personal interest in being outdoors is simply this – outside is the best way to be in nature, or God’s creation. How can one truly appreciate the warmth of sunlight on their skin if not from outside the building? How can one smell the earth after the rain if not by stepping outside and feeling the coolness, the wind, and the scents all around? So often, we forget that the cycle of life is not just humanity on its own, but also all that is surrounds us. Whether that is people, the birds of the air, the animals roaming the world, plants and flowers in the ground, the sun, moon, and stars, it is all a part of life.

In my book series The Last Prophet, the main character stresses the importance of taking care of not only one another as human beings, but taking care of the world we live in – nature, economy, mind, heart, body, and spirit. All these are given by God, a Higher Power, a Creator, as the series states multiple times, and it is for everyone’s benefit. What better way to appreciate what has been given to all of us, than to spend time in it and with it?

Needless to say, my family and I will be spending more time reaping the benefits of nature, but also appreciating the beauty and wonder that only the outdoors can provide. How about you? How do you spend time in nature? Where do you interact with nature most? Please comment in the space provided.

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