This post was originally published on the Nature Rocks blog on April 2, 2014.
As a parent, worrying is part of our everyday – it goes hand in hand with parenthood. My kid worry list gets long, but my top two are their health and their happiness, and I bet it’s the same for you.
When it comes to your kids and nature, what worries you? If you’re like 65% of American parents, it’s the fact that kids aren’t getting enough time outside.
My daughter Kareena enjoying some outdoor time at the beach.
The Nature Conservancy, with support from Disney, recently surveyed parents of kids between 3 – 18 in the U.S., Brazil, China, France and Hong Kong about kids and nature. This is the first global survey to capture how much time kids spend outside and parents’ perspectives on how much importance they place on nature.
As it turns out, U.S. parents worry about getting their kids outside as much as they do about bullying, the quality of education and obesity. That is a big deal to me – nature is as important as these issues! Globally, this feeling is shared strongly by parents in Brazil and Hong Kong. What’s more, 82% of U.S. parents view spending time in nature as “very important” to their children’s development – second only to reading as a priority. The message is clear; to parents, nature is not just “something to do,” it is a crucial part of growth.
So are parents right to worry about this? The answer – according to numerous studies – is a resounding yes.
Fact: kids need nature. Studies repeatedly show that time spent outside in nature leads to better health and improvement in the classroom.
Unfortunately, the time kids spend in nature declines as they get older. In the U.S., preschoolers spend 12 hours a week outside, but teens? Less than seven. In other countries except Brazil, the weekly average is far smaller. Admittedly, this winter has really been a challenge to getting outdoors. That said, my daughter Kareena probably spends about eight hours a week outside walking the dog, recess, playing in a lot of snow and playing sports.
So what’s keeping our kids indoors? Parents in all countries cite competing demands on their kids’ time, such as homework, time spent on electronic devices inside, or other after-school activities. Similar to study findings, homework and lots of activities including singing, swimming, basketball, playing with her dog, her friends and her devices take up Kareena’s time. With all that going on and all our daily responsibilities, it can be tough to make getting into nature a priority. But, connecting with nature is a critical part of Kareena’s development, so my husband and I work to fit it in where we can.
Working in the conservation field, I also think about the future of us. If kids don’t connect with nature now, who will care for the environment and support conservation and for us in the future? Direct experience with nature is the most highly cited influence on conservation values and inspiring environmental stewardship.
What excites me about these findings is that parents want to do something about it – it’s risen in our consciousness to take action. So what can we do?
First, let’s recognize that we are the primary gatekeepers to nature. According to the survey, children are much more likely to be outside with a parent or guardian than a friend, teacher or extended family member. Nature is not just good for children – it’s good for everyone.
Second, get connected. Seventy-five percent of parents use online resources to learn about nature and the outdoors. Nature Rocks gives parents ideas on where to go and what to do with kids of all ages and in all types of weather.
Finally, pledge to get outside! Walk to school. Hike at a nature preserve, or plan a weekend of camping as a family. Make sure your kids see how much fun you’re having.
Are you part of the 65% of American parents that worry that your child doesn’t spend enough time outside? Do you have any tips or tricks to share to work in more outdoor time to our family’s over-scheduled life?
Sarita Bhargava works in marketing at The Nature Conservancy. She lives in northern Virginia with her husband and daughter.