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January 14, 2018
Getting Kids Outside
A Note from the Farmer's Wife
Every now and then the Farmer and I wax philosophic. Sometimes we talk about the future of the farm, or we discuss politics, our parents, the neurosis of our dog and of course the weather. But more often than not we talk about our kids. This morning as the rays of the sun began to reach through the trees, crossing the meadow to land on our pillows we cuddled, avoiding the inevitable bone-chilling shock of getting out of bed.
Even though the temperature this morning was ten degrees, the cloudless sky still begs for us to spend time outdoors. That’s when we started to talk about our kids. And how hard it is to get them outside, even though we live on 90 acres. Well, that’s not entirely true, our 7 year old leaps outside any chance she gets, but she doesn’t have a smartphone or access to any device whatsoever including a TV, except at bedtime.
The teen boy is another story. In fact, ever since he started reading, his outdoor leisure time dwindled dramatically. Adding a smartphone to his life a year ago seemed to make the indoors more appealing, even though he has no social media apps, no web browsing and no gaming on his phone. Spotify, texting and email still possesses his attention at the expense of the cultivation of creativity that comes when a youthful imagination has only nature as it’s medium, or maybe paper, pencil and paint.
In the middle of this conversation, when my own smartphone delivered an article on the subject of smartphones and kids to my inbox, I couldn’t but help acknowledge the irony of the phone in my hand, at an early hour, delivering a message agreeing with our discussion that smartphones are owning our attention spans, for better and for worse.
Almost 75% of teens, age 13-18 have access to smartphones, according to a 2015 study by Pew Research Center.
Average time spent staring at their screens? 9 hours per day, not counting school hours or homework. Yikes! Can you imagine how proficient these kids would be at a musical instrument if they spent half that time practicing each day?
The average number of times they unlock their phones is 95/day. How much time is spent per year in the simple act of unlocking our phones?
Tech companies are investing big bucks in the effort to lure kids (and adults of course) into spending more time in front of screens glued to their favorite apps. Stock prices rise as our kids get more and more invested, and possibly addicted to their screens.
Of course their are many benefits to the mobile phone, that may or may not outweigh the drawbacks. More time and data is needed to accurately assess the value vs damage of the smartphone on the education of our children.
No matter what, phones are here to stay. It is up to parents to help their children find balance, and to be brave about saying no. Perhaps the simplest answer is to take our children outside, as a family, to go into the woods, or work in a garden, go skiing, throw ball, raise pigs or hike a mountain. Nature strengthens the will, relieves the spirit and feeds the soul. Engaging with our kids in the outdoors, with all phones left in the house might push a giant reset button for the entire family and provide a much-needed break from the attention grabbing ghouls of the internet. I'm grateful that our farm provides such easy access to nature.
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