Time outdoors is good medicine for hi-tech kids

07 Sep 2020
Time outdoors is good medicine for hi-tech kids

Screen time is always going to be a part of kids’ lives but while parents can never cut it out completely, research suggests there may be a very easy way to limit its side effects.

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

University of Adelaide psychology researcher Tassia Oswald reviewed the all of the published literature on the subject, from the English-speaking world, to identify opportunities for further research together with her supervisor at SAHMRI.

She found evidence to suggest the positive effects of time spent in nature could “buffer” or ameliorate the negative effects of time spent watching TV, computers or playing video games.

“Few studies considered screen time and green time together, and possible reciprocal psychological effects,” she said.

“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.”

Ms Oswald is now planning a pilot study to further explore the interplay between screen time and green time among young South Australians.

“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.”

There is a growing trend towards prescribing time in nature for health benefits. Ms Oswald says some doctors in the US and the UK have begun offering “green prescriptions” and in Japan, “forest bathing” is popular.

However the question of what constitutes quality green time is still up for discussion, she says.

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.

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

Dad Pete McDonald says if they tend to get a bit ratty if they’re on screens to 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.

The research is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

This article was reproduced with permission from The Advertiser.

Image: Lenny, Nash, Fred the dog and two of their chickens enjoy some green time in their Adelaide backyard. Credit: Tait Schmaal