Keeping kids off smartphones and away from computer screens gets more challenging the older they get. A new study has found that kids spend less time outdoors as they grow older in favor of time indoors on screens—but the good news is, it’s never too late to do something about it.
A new study from researchers at North Carolina State University and Clemson University has found that middle school students spend more time indoors on screens and less time outside. The study, which looked at outdoor activities of 543 middle school students living in South Carolina, found that while kids spend at least some amount of time outdoors, the majority of their free time was spent inside on screens.
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The study found that not all kids were equal when it came to missing out on the outdoors. Girls, African-American students and eighth graders were more likely to spend less time outside, while boys, Caucasian students and six graders were more likely to spend recreational time outdoors.
“We’re not going back in time when it comes to nature and electronic media. They’re now intertwined,” Lincoln Larson, study co-author and assistant professor of parks, recreation and tourism management at NC State, said. “The question becomes, how do we find ways to effectively integrate nature and technology? Can we design programs or experiences that appeal to young people’s inherent love for technology, but also get them outdoors to improve to their lifelong health?”
Here are a few ideas to help encourage older kids to spend more time outside:
- Choose family activities for the weekend that are outside such as hiking, biking or swimming.
- Since older kids might be “too big to play” (sniff, yes that day does come), try giving them jobs to do outdoors like raking leaves or helping in the garden.
- Encourage your kids to walk or ride a bike to school. If safety is a concern, walk or ride along with them. As an added bonus you’ll have more time to talk on the way.
- Set outdoor hours the same way you set time limits on screens—but in reverse. While you only allow one hour of screen time, for example, you can also require one hour of outdoor time.