As parents we all know the value of keeping our kids active. No parent wants to raise a couch potato who engages with the world solely through a screen. Of course that’s not to say that TV, movies and video games shouldn’t play a part in your kids’ development. They absolutely should. We’re lucky enough that the age of digital cable TV and streaming services give us more access to excellent quality content than ever before. There’s so much great stuff for kids out there (both the new stuff and the stuff from your childhood) that you can share and bond over. My experience as a Dad would certainly be poorer if my kids and I weren’t brought closer together by our shared love of Star Wars.
There’s nothing at all to say that screen time shouldn’t be a meaningful way to spend time with your kids, but at the same time it shouldn’t become the default setting for your family. If the modus operandi for everyone in your family is to come home and gather around the TV every day, this may become a problem. There’s value in screen time, to be sure, but it should be enjoyed as part of a “balanced diet” of activities.
Here we’ll look at some reasons why kids benefit from a love of the great outdoors as well as…
The dangers of an insular life
Look up and down any high street and you’ll see scores of kids traversing the streets with their heads bowed and their attention consumed by their smartphones. There’s no doubt that technology brings with it a risk of making us all more insular. But while we remember a time before technology placed such all-consuming demands on our attention, for our kids it’s all worryingly normal.
While we have an embarrassment of riches in terms of the amount of quality content to which we have access, in an age where 50% of teenagers feel “addicted” to their smartphones we should guard against our kids becoming dependent on it at the expense of their physical, cognitive and social development. Let’s have a little look at some of the benefits your kids experience when they’re raised with a love of all outdoor pursuits…
They get fitter and healthier
In an age where childhood obesity is becoming a national epidemic, kids (and most parents) need to grab whatever exercise they can in their free time. Although many kids develop an interest in sports and outdoor games (which have benefits of their very own including improved problem solving and teamwork skills), there are some for whom sports simply aren’t for them. The good news is that you don’t need to strong arm kids into getting into sports they don’t enjoy. They can get all the benefits of physical exercise without the rules and competitiveness that put many kids off sporting activities. Walking cycling and climbing trees and rocks are all fun activities that help kids get more active while still having fun.
Plus, the earlier they get to experience the joys of an active lifestyle, then more they’ll see exercise as a fun leisure pursuit and less like a grueling chore.
They develop an environmental conscience
Our kids will inherit the Earth once we’re gone, and we need to work with them to determine the quality of the world they’ll inherit. Kids today are growing up in an increasingly disposable society where single use plastics like water bottles, forks and sporks, single use plastic bags and disposable coffee cups are fast becoming the bane of our environment. But, as long as kids understand the environment only as an abstract concept in which they have no personal investment, they’re unlikely to grow up all that invested in it. Taking kids out to explore some areas of profound natural beauty will help them develop a healthy relationship with mother nature and the extent to which our actions as a species are damaging her. When they know the extent to which plastics are destroying our oceans and toxifying our soil, when they see the beauty of nature for themselves, they’re far more likely to grow up with a passion to change the status quo.
They respect plants and animals
Some parents regard taking their kids out hunting as a valuable rite of passage; a transitional moment between childhood and adulthood that engenders a healthy respect of the natural majesty (and inherent dangers) of animals. If, however, the idea of hunting is anathema to you, they can still benefit from a trip to the acres of hunting land available all over the country. As educational and edifying as a trip to the zoo can be, there’s no substitute for tracking and observing animals in their own natural habitat. Keeping a respectful distance and watching them do their thing, taking only memories and leaving only footprints is a wonderful way to engender a respect for the world’s plants and animals.
They understand food better
Inactivity certainly plays a part in the ongoing international struggle against childhood obesity. But let’s not give the role of ignorance a free pass, either. Very often, kids consume unhealthy amounts of fatty, sugary and salty processed foods, ignorant of both how bad for them they are and just how unnatural they are. Parents owe it to their kids to do everything they can to ensure that they grow up with sound nutritional knowledge so that they can make informed food choices. Getting kids out in the real world, looking at the plants that make up the food that they eat (in stark contrast to the factory prepared garbage that’s marketed to them) they develop a healthier relationship with their food. We all remember picking our own fruits and vegetables as kids and how fresh they tasted as soon as we picked them off the tree or vine. The good news is that today’s kids can enjoy that just as much!
They realize that there’s no such thing as bad weather
As a parent there’s nothing more frustrating than when your kid points to a slight spatter of rain or a slight drift of snow and thinks that’s a legitimate excuse to barricade themselves indoors. When kids develop a true love for the great outdoors they realize that there’s no such thing as bad weather.