Cut Screen Time and Plug Back Into Nature


by Emily Nuchols – Four to seven minutes per day. That’s how much time the average American child spends outdoors. Shocking, right?

But even more shocking is that statistic next to this one: According to a 2015 study by Common Sense Media,  American youth between the ages of 8 – 18 on average are logging 7.5  hours of screen time per day, and that’s not counting time spent using  media for school or homework.

“What could our lives and our children’s lives be like if our days  and nights were as immersed in nature as they are in technology?”  American author and journalist, Richard Louv has  spent more than a decade digging into the answers to this question.  Best known for his book, “Last child in the Woods: Saving Our Children  From Nature-Deficit Disorder,” Louv sounded the alarm for many parents  and educators in his book, where he explored the ever-growing disconnect  between kids and the outdoors, and how it impacts their physical and  emotional health. Through extensive research and examples Louv  attributed the epidemics of obesity, depression and attention disorders  in our youth to a childhood that has largely moved indoors and online.  He coined it “nature-deficit disorder.”

While Louv stressed his findings were not medical, but rather a  societal diagnosis, more and more pediatricians have turned to “lack of  nature” as a partial explanation  for the growing list of issues they’re seeing in their practices. Some  of them have even started writing prescriptions to go outside.

You don’t have to be a doctor to know the healing power of nature. But scientific research backs up the health benefits of spending time outdoors. For example, scientific research  has shown that connecting with nature lowers blood pressure, reduces  stress, and bolsters our immune system. It also helps fuel creativity  and imagination and makes us happier overall.

If being outside makes us feel so good, then why are we obsessed with screen time? According to the Children and Nature Network,  human beings have been urbanizing, and moving indoors since the  introduction of agriculture, however social and technological changes in  the past three decades have accelerated that social change. Among the  top culprits: disappearing open space, restricted access to natural  areas, parental fear magnified by news and entertainment media, and most  of all — screens. In just the past decade, we’ve seen an unprecedented  acceleration in the speed and quantity in which we get news, media and  our access to it —and it’s having real and lasting impacts to our lives,  especially the next generation.

Screens, games and videos have become the new “playtime” and in some  instances, a “babysitter” of sorts. Gone are the days that kids come  home from school and run off to play with their band of neighborhood  friends outside. Instead, the majority of kids ask for screen time after  the homework is done and dinner is eaten. It’s become a reward — and an  addiction.

Adults are no better; in fact, we’re some of the worst offenders.  Look around you. How many people have their eyes locked on a screen  right now? At work, walking down the street, in restaurants and in the  comforts of our own homes, chances are much of our days are spent  looking at screens. With information and access to whatever media we  could hope for at our fingertips at all times, it’s all too easy to find  ourselves plugged into our device and disconnected from our lives and  the outdoors. And it’s easy to forget: We’re leading the next generation  by example.

Technology and information sharing has incredibly positive impacts to  our lives, but it’s all too easy to have too much of a good thing in  this case. The key, as with most things, is balance. And it all starts  with unplugging and stepping outside.

Need more motivation? Veteran river outfitter, O.A.R.S., has launched a new challenge, #100HoursUnplugged, aimed at encouraging families to trade screen time for more time outside.

“It’s clear that developing a balanced relationship with technology  and spending more time outdoors is not only essential for children’s  physical and emotional health, it’s the best way to ensure the long-term  protection of our national parks and public lands,” Steve Markle, Vice  President, Sales and Marketing for O.A.R.S. said. “Providing access to  the outdoors and meaningful interactions with nature is at the heart of  our work at O.A.R.S. Now, more than ever, we want to encourage kids and  families to unplug and explore the great outdoors—whether that’s on a  river trip or a backyard adventure.”

The inspiration behind the challenge is simple: To get as many people  as possible to commit this summer to spending 100 hours unplugged,  outdoors and together as a family, however people choose to define that.

One hundred hours is just about four days. It’s a long weekend family road trip,  two separate weekends, or perhaps every Saturday in June. And whether  families regularly unplug, slightly reduce screen time, or hardly ever  unplug together, it’s totally doable. In setting out to launch this  campaign, that’s what O.A.R.S. envisioned—a challenge that wasn’t  completely out of reach for the average person. “Because with such  alarming statistics on technology use, and the ever-growing data behind  the benefits of time spent outdoors, it’s clear that every single  person, especially kids, could use a nature break,” according to Markle.

“At its core, this is about future generations and leaving a  legacy—and having some fun while we do it. It’s up to all of us to  ensure that our kids and our grandkids grow up knowing wild places, wild  rivers and that they develop a strong spirit of adventure—and it starts  with cutting the screen time cord every once in a while and heading  outside,” Markle said.

Learn more and take the challenge at

Emily Nuchols is the founder of Under Solen Media,  a Portland-based communications firm with a cause. In addition to  working with purpose-driven businesses and nonprofits, Emily writes for  National Geographic Adventure, Matador Network and O.A.R.S.’ blog, The  Eddy.