CHILDREN CANNOT EXPERIENCE THE NATURAL WORLD VIA A TABLET. THEY SHOULD BE ENCOURAGED TO PLAY OUTDOORS.
“Children cannot experience the natural world via a tablet”
CHILDREN ARE BORN INTO A WORLD OF SCREENS, SELFIES AND SOCIAL MEDIA. CONKERS SEEM OUT OF DATE.”
Spring’s arrival is always a welcome tonic for the winter blues, but this year was extra special. I watched a dull, grey world burst into bright and brilliant life through the eyes of my baby daughter. Chatting to other new mums, I remarked on the pure joy of watching the grass tickle her tiny toes for the very first time, and was shocked to be met with disapproval – even fear.
As their toddlers swiped and clicked on an array of digital devices, these concerned parents listed the dangers of allowing my five-month-old to play in the dirt.
It’s no secret that the young people of our ultra-connected electronic age are more disconnected from nature than they have ever been. Increasingly fearful of the great outdoors, parents are quick to choose clean, indoor alternatives over messy, dangerous wild play. Children are born into a world of screens, social media and selfies. Somehow, conkers are now deemed out of date.
If they’re lucky, primary schoolchildren get to experience nature tables and forest school sessions. But many still don’t, especially in deprived areas, and lots of communities lack any adult role models encouraging them into the natural world. Unsurprisingly, we are creating young people incapable of sitting still long enough to experience the magic of watching a butterfly emerge from a chrysalis in real time. Accustomed as they are to a culture of instant gratification, most would prefer to watch the performance on a tablet.
Are these the naturalists of the future? I hope not. For nature to really cast its healing spell over me, the waiting is crucial. The days of checking if tadpoles have emerged yet from their jelly; the weeks spent watching for the first migrant swallows or swifts. The quiet stillness preceding these familiar natural occurrences is just as important as the excitement of the events themselves, for this is when my busy mind is calmed.
I’m not alone in these feelings. It has been shown that early exposure to nature is critical for the psychological wellbeing of developing humans. More time in green spaces means less depression; the link has been unequivocally proven. So why are we denying our children access to these natural remedies?
We are now far enough into the digital age that children who grew up with no access to green spaces are becoming parents themselves. It is possible that these parents don’t know how to encourage outdoor play. And for those that do, it is easier to sit a child in a corner with a mobile phone than take responsibility for protecting them from the supposed dangers of the world outside.
Of course, it’s impossible to shelter our children completely from the technological advances that shape the landscape of their future. Electronic gadgets are permanent features in my daughter’s world. Having been encouraged to explore nature, some brilliant young trailblazers are now using technology to enhance, rather than replace, their wildlife encounters.
Rebecca is a seven-year-old naturalist who creates ‘vlogs’ about butterfly conservation. Social media-savvy Dara connects young naturalists through his popular wildlife blog. Eight-year-old Aiden makes videos about conservation. Technology can be an aid to wild experiences and helps youngsters to connect with other like-minded individuals.
We cannot hope for our children to replicate the tech-free wild experiences we had as youngsters, because the world they live in is not the same. But we can encourage them to spend quality time in nature. It will arm them with a toolkit of natural antidotes to the anxieties of a future world that we cannot yet imagine.
Jess introduces two children to a water snail.