Screen time compromising a love for nature?

Filed under: Toddlers Preschoolers, Development/Milestones: Babies, That's Entertainment

I grew up without television. As a result, I have a bizarre pop-culture deficit that causes some rather entertaining, if not baffling social encounters, and makes me appear to be much more serious than I actually am. It's not that I don't think you're funny. It's just that I have no idea what you're talking about.

In grade school I hated my parents for their stand on television. They were way un-cool, and forced me to be un-cool as a result. Sixth grade will forever be emblazoned in my head as the year I was lambasted for not knowing who Michale Jackson was. But like every other kid, I survived sixth grade, and Michael Jackson, well, he has a kid he calls Blanket, and that's pretty much all I need to know about him.

But the thing I didn't realize then was that not watching television forced me outside--away from the couch and computer and into nature. Now as a parent, I want to pass my childhood love for the outdoors on to my son. I want him to love nature, and to be at home among the tall maples and meadow grasses in our back yard---we moved north to a place with land at the end of a long dirt road for this very reason. But I've started to realize that simply living somewhere isn't enough.

The ability to play outdoors in nature is something that requires an active imagination and the ability to make something out of nothing: a fort out of an armful of fallen branches; a fairy house out of a tiny patch of moss and bark. And imagination, is perhaps threatened by the amount of screen time kids are exposed to these days.

In his book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv argues that children spend so much playtime in front of screens that they have lost their connection to the natural world. I see this at school each year. Kids don't know what to do outside, they complain that they're bored, and often, they expect adults to structure their activities. In general, kids don't seem to have the avid love for nature that I remember having, and many need to be coaxed outdoors.

Sending time in nature is perhaps becoming a learned activity. With playtime being redefined by interactive games and media, children expect to be entertained during play more than they did two decades ago. It now falls to parents to convey to children a love for nature through their own genuine enthusiasm for the outdoors. What do you love to do outdoors that you can share with your child?

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.