David Suzuki on con­vinc­ing com­puter-savvy kids to play out­side

One in 10 get the daily ac­tiv­ity they need

The Kids Post - - Contents -

So­ci­ety grows more tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced daily — and hu­man be­ings more dig­i­tally savvy and con­nected with each gen­er­a­tion.

There are ben­e­fits to this — faster in­for­ma­tion flow across dis­tances, ad­vances in health care and other vi­tal sup­port sys­tems — but so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts are not al­ways so ob­vi­ous.

Where might one look to see the per­ils of this so­ci­etal evo­lu­tion? Try the so­cial de­vel­op­ment of chil­dren. To­day’s chil­dren spend in­creas­ingly less time out­side and more in­side, their faces of­ten lit by the glow of screens.

A 2016 study showed fewer than one in 10 Cana­dian chil­dren age five to 17 get the sin­gle hour of daily heart-pump­ing ac­tiv­ity they need. More than three-quar­ters sur­pass the rec­om­mended daily max­i­mum of two hours of recre­ational screen time. As a re­sult, our chil­dren are be­com­ing less healthy. They’re even hav­ing prob­lems sleep­ing.

How to buck this trou­ble­some trend?

Think back to your own child­hood. What were some of your hap­pi­est, health­i­est times?

I re­flect fondly on time I spent fish­ing with my fa­ther and the many days I spent ex­plor­ing na­ture, catch­ing in­sects in swamps, hik­ing forests and moun­tains, en­coun­ter­ing an­i­mals, im­mers­ing my­self in any nat­u­ral set­ting I could.

As time went on and my in­ter­est in sci­ences grew, I de­vel­oped a deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion for our em­bed­ded­ness in na­ture. We are a part of na­ture, af­ter all. Like other an­i­mals, we rely on clean air, soil and wa­ter to live.

Yet I find it re­mark­able how easy it is for many of us to for­get this in a world of paved streets, skyscrap­ers, com­puter tablets and desk jobs. In such a world, jobs — and thus, the econ­omy — be­come our top pri­or­ity, and we fail to rec­og­nize our ut­ter de­pen­dence on na­ture for our health and sur­vival.

The first step in nur­tur­ing “ecofriendly” young peo­ple is to im­merse youth in na­ture. Pro­vide them with op­por­tu­ni­ties to dis­cover the won­ders of na­ture daily. Speak of na­ture as it truly is: Our lifeblood, not some ex­ter­nal force that hu­mans “man­age.” When it comes to the chal­lenges fac­ing our nat­u­ral world, like the wors­en­ing ef­fects of cli­mate change, ex­plain to them that we are re­spon­si­ble for much of the re­cent phe­nom­ena — and we have the abil­ity to change our ways and cre­ate a sus­tain­able world.

Let’s start with the easy stuff — get­ting out­side.

Over the past two decades, re­searchers have doc­u­mented what most of us know in­tu­itively: Ac­cess to na­ture is good for peo­ple. It helps with learn­ing, phys­i­cal health and over­all hap­pi­ness and well­be­ing. Be­ing out­doors can re­duce stress and symp­toms of at­ten­tion deficit dis­or­ders while boost­ing im­mu­nity, en­ergy lev­els and cre­ativ­ity.

Even in built play­grounds, kids spend twice as much time play­ing, use their imag­i­na­tions more and en­gage in more aer­o­bic and strength­en­ing ac­tiv­i­ties when the spa­ces in­cor­po­rate nat­u­ral el­e­ments like logs, flow­ers and small streams, ac­cord­ing to re­search from the Univer­sity of Ten­nessee at Knoxville. Where to start? Many chil­dren are in­her­ently cu­ri­ous ex­plor­ers, so you may not need to do much to cul­ti­vate a con­nec­tion. Just take them out­side. If you’re hav­ing dif­fi­culty, you can do many things to in­tro­duce chil­dren gen­tly to their nat­u­ral sur­round­ings.

With Septem­ber and school here, many par­ents will face the chal­lenge of bal­anc­ing recre­ation time with busy­ing work and school sched­ules. If you need help, the David Suzuki Foun­da­tion’s four-week, back-to-school su­per­hero chal­lenge pro­vides ma­te­ri­als to help get kids back out­side to learn about crit­i­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues.

Ac­cess to na­ture means hap­pier, health­ier chil­dren — and get­ting kids out­side can be eas­ier than you think. What’s most ex­cit­ing is the longer-term im­pact of con­nect­ing young peo­ple with the nat­u­ral world: Chil­dren who spend time in na­ture are far more likely to care about pro­tect­ing it later in life. As hu­man­ity faces cli­mate change im­pacts pow­er­ful enough to dam­age our planet ir­repara­bly at best — or lit­er­ally end our species’ time on this planet at worst — what could be more im­por­tant.

Years ago, I wrote that “A baby nurs­ing at a mother’s breast is an un­de­ni­able af­fir­ma­tion of our root­ed­ness in na­ture.” But soon af­ter that beau­ti­ful in­tro­duc­tory stage of life, many of us lose sight of that con­nec­tion.

Hu­mankind needs to shift the way we see our re­la­tion­ship with na­ture, to re­mem­ber this em­bed­ded­ness within it. It starts with teach­ing chil­dren to do bet­ter than we did.

It may seem as sim­ple as a hike in the for­est or a day at the beach, but the sur­vival of hu­mankind de­pends on it.

Be­ing out­doors can re­duce stress and symp­toms of at­ten­tion deficit dis­or­ders

DAVID SUZUKI David Suzuki is the host of the CBC’s The Na­ture of Things and au­thor of more than 30 books on ecol­ogy (with files from Bren­dan Glauser).

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