Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024
Choose green time instead of screen time

Screens are everywhere. Cell phones, Netflix, and video games can be distractions that keep us cooped up. It’s easy to spend hours relaxing in front of the phone or TV.

These are hours that we could spend doing physical activity outdoors. Excessive screen time has negative impacts on our health, and this is especially worrying when it comes to children. Outdoor physical activity is crucial for healthy development.

The effects on health

Excessive screen time is an emerging health problem and the long-term health effects are still unclear. After all, the first iPhone came out just 12 years ago!

Close hands using phone

According to the Ontario Student Health survey, young people in grades 7 to 12 spend 7 hours a day in front of screens. This screen time is usually indoor and sedentary.

The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines say that for optimal health, children and youth ages 5 to 17 should participate in:

  • high levels of physical activity
  • reduced levels of sedentary behavior
  • get enough sleep every day.

Excessive screen time affects all of these.

Children running down the path towards the camera

Many researchers agree that physical activity is important for child development. Physical activity improves heart and brain health, builds healthy bones and muscles, and maintains a healthy body weight.

Physical activity can also improve cognitive functions such as behavioral regulation, attention and planning, and mental health. Physical activity in children helps minimize depressive symptoms and feelings of anxiety, as well as reduce stress and increase resilience.

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Additionally, excessive screen time is closely related to high use of social media and video games, which are linked to the development of mental health problems.

Excessive screen time is linked to developing unhealthy habits, such as poor diet, lower fitness levels, and less sleep. Sleep is important to support healthy physical and mental development. Outdoor physical activity has even been linked to lower rates of nearsightedness or nearsightedness.

Screen Time Recommendations

The Canadian Pediatric Society has published guidelines on screen time for young people. For children under 2 years old, screen time is not recommended. For children ages 2 to 4, a maximum of one hour daily is suggested, and for children ages 5 to 17, a maximum of two hours daily is best.

The little boy smiles at the camera

Despite all these recommendations, even less screen time is considered better for your health.

However, more than half (55%) of children ages 5 to 17 exceed this recommended amount of screen time, and the same is true for 76% of preschoolers.

What you can do

When we live our lives connected to our devices, we lose other meaningful connections. Connections with our loved ones and connections with the environment around us.

Family on the beach looks at the water

Outdoor play gives your kids a much-needed break from screens, while improving their health and fostering an appreciation for nature.

Screen Time vs Green Time report cover

The best way to limit your children’s screen time is to limit your own use. Set limits on when and where devices can be used.

Encourage your children to connect with nature by creating opportunities for them. Lead by example by scheduling evening nature walks or have them attend a nature education program to learn about their environment.

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Are we saying that all screens are bad?

No! We are saying that moderation is key. Try to limit screen time, especially when outdoors.

Camper taking a photo of a mossy stump on a smartphone.

If you are going to use screens, try to use them in a way that engages your children in nature. Stop to take photos of the beautiful viewpoints and critters you’ll see in nature along the way.

Or use a nature education app like iNaturalist. It’s a free app that lets you connect, share, and discover the amazing diversity of parks with just a few clicks.

Provincial parks are places to spend quality time together in nature

The next time you visit Ontario parks, consider limiting your screen time and focus on enjoying quality green time with your loved ones.

For more information, read Nature Canada’s report on The Health Impacts of Excessive Screen Time. For parenting tips, check out Nature Canada’s Parenting Tips for reducing screen time and immersing yourself in nature.