Each day the average American child spends an estimated four to seven minutes engaging in unstructured outdoor activity and, depending on the age of a child, over seven hours engaging with media in front of a screen*. With this in mind, it is important to consider the positive effects of being outside on health and well-being.
Pediatrician James (Tony) Bakerink, MD, founder of Wee Care Pediatrics, shares his insights on free time outdoors for children and teens.
Q: What are the benefits of outdoor time for children and teens?
Time spent active outside can help increase fitness levels for children and teens, and the exposure to nature can diminish stress levels and symptoms of ADHD in some children. Studies have found that connecting with nature makes people more kind and better at interacting with others in social settings.* Nature also provides sensory and intellectual stimulation that can enhance concentration, creativity and performance inside and outside the classroom.
Q: If my child is involved in sports, does that count as outdoor time?
Being outside and getting exercise through organized sports can promote physical and emotional health while helping your child develop interpersonal skills, which is great! However, it is good to balance organized outdoor activities with unstructured activity that enables kids to be creative and interact with their outdoor environment on their own terms.
Q: What are some ways to encourage my child to go outdoors?
If children or teens seem reluctant to put down their smartphone or video game controller, you may have to inspire them with other ideas. Ask them what types of activities they might like to try—maybe hiking in the woods, playing games outdoors with neighborhood friends, rollerblading at a park or drawing with sidewalk chalk would entice your child or teen to go out. Engage their interests to encourage more outdoor time.
Q: How can parents keep kids safe while they are out?
Talk with your kids about safety rules. Make sure they know what to do if a stranger approaches them, how to safely cross the street and the importance of wearing protective gear with bikes, scooters and skateboards. Agree on check-in times if they will be outside for long periods and set boundaries for how far from home they can wander. You can also connect with other parents in your community to create a network of chaperones who you trust to look out for your kids!
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*Source: Child Mind Institute