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Time outdoors is good medicine for hi-tech kids

Clare Peddie, September 6, 2020 6:45PM The Advertiser

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Brothers Lenny, 7, and Nash, 4, love to get out in their backyard with dog Fred and their four chooks. Picture: Tait Schmaal media_cameraBrothers Lenny, 7, and Nash, 4, love to get out in their backyard with dog Fred and their four chooks. Picture: Tait Schmaal

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Green time may be the antidote* to screen time for children’s brains, boosting academic performance, mental health and wellbeing, research suggests.

A review of existing research has found evidence to suggest the positive effects of time spent in nature could “buffer” or help improve the negative effects of time spent watching TV, on computers or playing video games.

“Few studies considered screen time and green time together, and possible reciprocal* psychological* effects,” said University of Adelaide psychology researcher Tassia Oswald who reviewed all the published studies on the subject from the English-speaking world.

“However, there is preliminary* evidence that green time could buffer consequences* of high screen time.

“Therefore nature may be an under-utilised* public health resource for youth psychological wellbeing in a hi-tech era.”

Boy and girl playing games on mobile phone in their bed media_cameraScreen time has become part of life for children and researchers believe time outdoors can reduce the negative impacts.

Ms Oswald is now planning a pilot study* with the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute to further explore the interplay* between screen time and green time among young people.

“It‘s really hard to reduce young people’s screen time, technology is here to stay and it‘s really important in a lot of aspects of life,” she said.

“So it would be great to work out how we can relieve some of the psychological implications* of that and green time would be great, so we need to look into it further to strongly support that idea.”

Where family fun begins. Happy family playing with a ball on meadow media_cameraPrimary school aged children are thought to need a larger place to play outside, like a local park.

Ms Oswald said there was a growing trend towards prescribing time in nature for health benefits. She said some doctors in the US and the UK offered “green prescriptions”, while “forest bathing” was popular in Japan.

However, the question of what made up quality green time was still up for discussion, she said.

Research to date suggests the answer depends on the age of the child. For preschoolers, a private garden is important. Primary school aged children need a larger place to play and for teenagers, the nature of the neighbourhood is important.

Green time media_cameraLenny, Nash, Fred the dog and two of their chickens enjoy some green time in their Adelaide backyard. Picture: Tait Schmaal

Brothers Lennie, 7, and Nash, 4, from the Adelaide suburb of Clapham love playing outdoors with their dog, Fred, and four chooks.

Dad Pete McDonald said his sons tended to get a bit irritable* if they were on screens too much.

“We’re very fortunate to have a park right outside of the gate, so if the yard gets too small, just open the gate and they’ve got a playground out there they can run around,” he said.

GLOSSARY

  • antidote: cure or medicine
  • reciprocal: an action or effect shared by two things
  • psychological: to do with the mind or mental state
  • preliminary: early
  • consequences: results
  • under-utilised: not used often
  • pilot study: a small study in preparation for a larger study
  • interplay: the way two things affect each other
  • implications: the effects of an action or decision
  • irritable: grumpy, unhappy

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. What has been found to improve the negative effects of too much screen time?
  2. Where is researcher Tassia Oswald from?
  3. What is Tassia Oswald now planning with the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute?
  4. Where is forest bathing popular?
  5. How many animals do brothers Lennie and Nash have?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. My screen time and green time
Think back over the past 24 hours. Write down all of the things you have done that involved “screen time” and all of the things you have done that involved “green time”. Separate the screen time items into two categories – essential (for education or wellbeing purposes) and non-essential (for entertainment). Give each of the activities an honest estimate of how much time you spent doing them. Calculate how much time in total you spent over the last 24 hours on essential screen time, non-essential screen time and green time. 

Now that you know these figures, answer the following questions:

(a) Are you spending more or less time on screens than you thought?

(b) Are you spending more or less time in nature than you thought?

(c) Do you think that you have a healthy balance of screen time versus green time? Did working out the figures change your opinion about this?

(d) What are your top 5 green time activities that you enjoy doing?

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Health and Physical Education; Mathematics; ICT Capability; Critical and Creative Thinking

2. Extension
Create a daily schedule for yourself that you think includes a healthy balance of screen time and green time activities, as well as any other usual activities you do. Write a paragraph explaining why you think the schedule you designed strikes a good balance between the two.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Health and Physical Education; Mathematics; Critical and Creative Thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
Stretch your sentence
Find a ‘who’ in the story — a person or an animal. Write it down.

Add three adjectives to describe them better.

Now add a verb to your list. What are they doing?

Add an adverb about how they are doing the action.

Using all the words listed, create one descriptive sentence.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What do you like to do most when you’re not on a screen?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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