FRIDAY, June 4 (HealthDay News) -- For kids, summertime used to
mean days spent at the beach or lake, afternoon bike rides and
playing badminton in backyards.
These days, summer is more likely to be lived in the
not-so-great indoors, with kids glued to computer screens and
televisions with little "human" contact.
The indoor child phenomenon concerns health experts and
environmentalists, who worry about the effects on health,
development and relationships.
By the time most U.S. children enter kindergarten, they have
spent more than 5,000 hours in front of a television, and that is
enough time to earn a college degree, according to David
Mizejewski, a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation who
uses those scary statistics in the federation's "Be Out There"
campaign to get children back outside.
Having kids stay indoors in the summer is the lazy way out, of
course. "It's easier for parents to say 'Play video games,' 'Watch
a show,'" he said. But all that indoor time isn't healthy or good
for development, he added.
Among the health benefits of more outdoor time, according to
data gathered by the federation:
- Kids will get the 60 minutes a day of physical activity
recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics to improve
physical and mental health.
- Obesity risk will decline -- important since obesity rates have
more than doubled in the past two decades.
- Kids may enjoy better distance vision -- at least one study has
found this in children who spend more time outdoors than kids who
- Children with attention-deficit symptoms have been found to
show improvement when they are exposed to natural settings.
Besides the health benefits, the outdoors provides lessons in
socializing and other life skills, said Dr. David Elkind, a
professor emeritus of child development at Tufts University and
The Power of Play.
"One of the consequences of childhood moving indoors is the culture of childhood, passed down for hundreds of years [is lost]," Elkind said. He recalls childhoods of the past, where outdoor play was plentiful, and kids learned to handle their own quarrels, negotiate their turn at games, and have other valuable learning experiences.
Even with that list of benefits, however, it can be difficult to
get kids out of the house, Mizejewski and Elkind agreed.
So how to make it happen? "Parents need to make it a priority,"
Taking back control can make it easier. "Kids don't control how
they spend their time," he said. "Adults do."
Parents can also emphasize a balance between indoor and outdoor
activities, Elkind said, such as "an hour of screen time, an hour
of outdoor play, being with your friends."
The screen time might include a nature show. Mizejewski has
Animal Planet, for instance.
Some adults become convinced that outdoor time is crucial once
they hear enough statistics. Today, 8- to 18-year-olds log an
average of 53 hours a week using entertainment media, according to
a Kaiser Family Foundation study released in January.
Only three of 10 respondents said they had any rules about media
The answer isn't to simply tell your kids to go outside,
Mizejewski and Elkind agreed.
A child's appreciation of play and the outdoors "has to come
from example," Elkind said. "It can't come from preaching. There
has to be some adult guidance and direction."
"Parents can carve out an hour in the evening," Mizejewksi said, and plan something outdoors as a family. "You don't have to be an early childhood educator or a naturalist to be able to give your kids these important nature activities," he pointed out.
"Kids need unstructured play time, outside in nature, where they can look under a rock, set their own rules with peers," Mizejewski said.
Even going for a walk is good, he added.
Planting a garden with your kids is another good idea,
Mizejewski said. Or just have a camp out in the backyard. "You
don't have to get in the car and drive to Yellowstone to have a fun
The federation, in fact, is planning the 6th Great American
Backyard Campout on June 26, urging people across the country to
take part in the one-night event and reconnect with nature.
Parents should also be sensitive to the fact that different
children will be attracted to different outdoor options, Elkind
said. "Give the kids some choices -- hiking, camping, the
To find out more suggestions for helping your child spend more
time outdoors, visit the