Doctors say spending time outdoors can improve overall well-being in children

Doctors say spending time outdoors can improve overall well-being in children
Published: Jun. 3, 2022 at 8:49 AM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - According to the Child Mind Institute, the average American child spends about 4-7 minutes a day outside. Over the last two years, getting outside and socializing decreased, while screen time increased.

A psychiatrist at Aspirus Health said spending time outside isn’t just enjoyable for kids but, it’s also necessary. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, being outside promotes things like social interactions, collaborations, physical health, higher attention spans, lower stress levels, stem skills and even the ability to take appropriate risks.

Doctors said the pandemic and online schooling have increased the time children spend on technology.

“There’s more and more screen time use and kids kind of gravitate towards screens. Screens provide immediate dopamine, which can be a little addictive, right? So it can take more, whereas like when screens weren’t as much of an option, kids were gravitating toward outside,” a psychiatrist at Aspirus Behavioral Health, Dr. Desire Christensen said.

She added that giving kids the option to choose, makes them feel like they still have control. So, offering if they’d rather jump on the trampoline or go to the park, can be encouraging. She said it can be challenging to get them outside, from naps to eating and working it into a schedule, but she said it’s worth the effort to build a stronger relationship with them.

“Kids are using more than what’s recommended. Part of that is just school so much now is screen-based, but even the leisure time, you know, and again, kids often will choose screens over outdoors. So we can reduce the amount of screen time because excessive screen time leads to poor mental health outcomes, less socialization, and sleep issues. So screens do interfere with our brain’s ability to kind of wind down and sleep. Physical activity, on the other hand, promotes good sleep cycles,” she explained.

She said it can be a challenge to get kids away from the screens, however, setting expectations and giving kids the option can be encouraging.

“If a kid is resistant, and the parent is overworked and tired, they may be less likely to implement those parenting strategies. So I mean, really consistent parenting with good behavioral strategies can shape any behavior,” Dr. Christensen said. “Keeping in mind, right, that there are limitations to that. Parents are very much under their own stressors at this time. So I would say, you know, it’s when we talk about those things, it’s not parental blame, it’s just trying to have tools, so the parent feels like they’re more in control. Because it’s not a good feeling to feel like you don’t know how to encourage good behaviors in your child.”

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