The Great Outdoors vs Entertainment Screens:
A Battle of the 21st Century
The directions were to write a make-believe story. As the three third grade girls sat staring at the ceiling and at each other, their papers lay blank. On my other side, the boy was writing ferociously. After a few minutes of intense writing, I couldn’t help but ask him to see his progress. With great enthusiasm, I was excited to see what kind of story he had concocted on his lined paper. As my eyes made out the nine-year old boy chicken scratch, I realized his story came straight from a video game. As I probed him for answers, he admitted the story was from a video game he was playing last night. My heart fell. These four children either could not come up with a story of any kind or they copied one right out of a video game storyline. The imaginations of our children are disappearing with the appearance of TV, video games, iPads, computers, and the like. Our children are spending less time outdoors, getting necessary exercise and developing their imaginations and problem solving skills. Instead they are trapped indoors with their screens, flickering back entertaining images at them.
As a mom, I am constantly reading parenting articles. There is always so much advice on how to be a great parent. What are the best way to discipline? What are the foods our children should eat and not eat? What kinds of books should our children read? The list of questions goes on and on. However, one of the most popular topics discussed in the 21st century is how much screen time should our children be receiving, and what can we, as parents, do to fight the battle of letting children’s lives be taken over by the myriads of screens?
To begin to solve this media crisis in our modern world, we need to establish screen time rules in our families. Some technology time is not bad. The problems arise when our children spend a total five to seven hours a day, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Experts are constantly establishing guidelines, so that can be a starting point for parents “In addition to limiting all entertainment screen time — including TV, the Internet and various smart devices — to less than two hours daily, the guidelines recommend children under age 2 get no screen time.” If children spent only two hours of screen time, just imagine the possibilities of other activities they could be doing! They could be enjoying running around on a playground, playing various sports (and there are SO many to choose from), or playing other outdoor games like hopscotch, jump rope, and all those fun games that we played as children. If more time could be spent outdoors, our children would be healthier not only physically, but cognitively as well.
Being active outdoors significantly reduces the risk of children being overweight and obese. I turned to The Centers for Disease Control for some statistics. CDC points out that “obesity among children aged 6 to 11 more than doubled in the past 20 years, to 17 percent of children in this age group. The rate of clinically obese adolescents (aged 12-19) more than tripled, to 17.6 percent. The recommendation is one hour or more of physical activity. Frankly, 60 minutes does not even seem like a lot. When we were children, some of us stayed outside until it got dark. According to The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institution, our inactive lifestyles are one of the main causes of the rising overweight and obese children, as well as adults.
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As parents, we can model being away from all of our own screens and spending time with our children, bonding in the process. There are so many ways to have fun together. We can choose activities that are best for our families taking into account children’s ages, our families’ interests, and activities we can afford. There is such a wide array of activities and sports from simple activities such as taking leisurely strolls, playing in the dirt or sandbox to more advanced forms of exercise such as Each family can decide what works best for them. As we engage ourselves and our children in physical activity, not only does it benefit our waistlines, but our minds as well.
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Children’s developing brains learn to problem solve and expand their imaginations when they play outdoors The U.S National Library of Medicine reports. Children need real-world stimulation and interaction, so that when it comes time to sit down and write in the classroom, their creativity can leak out on paper because they have been exposed to nature to let their minds grow. Even though some video games are considered “realistic”, a virtual world can never substitute real world experiences. From my own childhood memories, I remember playing teacher, doctor, and police. My mind was at work, creating lesson plans, prescriptions, and tickets for bad drivers. If my parents did not limit my TV and computer time to one hour each, I would have not experienced creating these worlds.
In addition to weight control and cognitive development, playing outdoors allows children to be exposed to a variety of bacteria as well as Vitamin D. Bacteria sounds like an evil word in our day, however, it is crucial to be exposed to various bacteria outside in order to build a human body’s immune system. Don’t believe me? Google it and you might be surprised how important it is to let children play in the dirt and what not. Granted, wash their hands when they come inside, but don’t stop your children from having some fun outside, digging in the dirt. Remember how you did it as a kid? Did I mention being outside gives you the necessary dose of Vitamin D? No need to gulp Vitamin D pills anymore.
Some parents might argue that kids are bored when they go outside. It makes sense. Their imaginations have been so suppressed by technology, they do not know how to entertain themselves anymore. Their imagination is being stifled by plots from cartoons and video games, so when it comes time for them to make up their own stories, they struggle. Again, I flashback to my own childhood and remember how the worlds of prince and princess would be my world outdoors. The swing would be my airplane taking me to faraway places. The sandbox would turn me into an architect. Do children even know how to play make-believe anymore?
Another huge concern might be the safety of our children when they are outside. We constantly hear in the news of devastating news happening all over the country. However, when we were young, we were always outdoors and criminals and bad people existed twenty, thirty years ago as well. In our media driven world we are so afraid of what could happen. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be careful. For safety reasons, there should be supervision at all times, especially for the younger ones.
Which can bring about another issue that parents are simply too busy to supervise or to enjoy the outdoors with their children. I know, I am a parent myself, with hundreds of responsibilities. However, it pains me to see my children stuck inside all day long. Sometimes, laundry just has to wait. We can’t let TVs and video games babysit our children all day long. Then why have children in the first place if we can’t even spend time with them?
Parents, for the sake of our future teachers, doctors, and politicians, I ask you to engage our children in the God-given gift, the beautiful outdoors. The best part is that your children will thank you one day when they are healthy and creative adults. They will have a story to tell their own children how they played hide and seek, cops and robbers, basketball, and baseball. Their favorite memories will be how they took hikes, won sports trophies, and ran around on the playground. Engage them in the great outdoors, in nature and they will forget they even had an Xbox in the first place. You won’t regret it, I promise.
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