Kids are spending an exorbitant amount of time glued to their screens these days. A 2021 survey by Common Sense Media found that American teenagers ages 13–18 spend an average of six and a half hours of screen time per day on social media and other activities such as video games. Screen time continues to increase as kids are online more during the school day as well as for socializing with their friends. With this boost in screen use, we have also seen a rise in mental health concerns among tweens and teens. The increase in young girls’ digital technology use, for example, is often linked to the rise in depression and suicide since 2012 in the United States.
One way to balance out all of this screen time is to get outside and engage with nature, which has been shown through scientific research to have an abundance of health benefits. All of us need healthy breaks away from screens throughout the day to recharge and get back to a balanced state, both mentally and physically. Spending some time outside will help kids relax and then come back energized and inspired as they continue with their day. If they do not get these necessary nature breaks in between school, homework and their other commitments, they could burn out before they even have the chance to receive their high school diploma.
Every year, the organization Fairplay organizes Screen-Free Week to shine the light on the importance of taking breaks from screens. Screen-Free Week is an annual invitation to play, explore and rediscover the joys of life beyond ad-supported screen content. During the first week of May, thousands of families, schools and communities around the world will put down their entertainment screens for seven days of fun, connection and discovery.
Even though this week is about turning off screens, Screen-Free Week is not just about going without technology. As we all know, much of our lives these days depend on screens: paying bills, ordering food, filling out forms before visiting the doctor, keeping up with family and friends, communicating with our children’s school and our own work, helping with our kids’ schoolwork and more.
Instead, let’s spend time during Screen-Free Week recognizing how we can start building a nature habit to turn some screen time into more green time. An hour once dedicated to YouTube becomes an hour spent outside on a family bike ride; 10 minutes scrolling on social media turn into 10 minutes taking care of a pet or plant; a movie on a rainy afternoon is replaced by time spent reading and learning about nature.
You can celebrate Screen-Free Week at home, in your school, in your community or anywhere – just put down those entertainment screens and choose an activity that helps you connect to nature. Doing so will help you and your loved ones feel happier and calmer.
Here are some other ideas for replacing screen time with green time all year long:
- Instead of eating dinner in front of the television, take your meal out back or on your balcony/porch.
- Instead of planning birthday parties where kids watch a movie or play video games, suggest getting a group together for a barbeque, swimming, an outdoor sports game, or an exciting adventure, such as camping, boating, kayaking, river rafting, mountain biking or doing a ropes course.
- Instead of your kids locked away in their rooms with their computer doing homework, suggest they head outside to get some of their work done outside to enjoy the fresh air. Maybe they even want to draft an essay the old-fashioned way with a pencil and paper to get a much-needed screen break.
- Instead of your kids making TikTok videos all day, get their creative juices flowing while engaging with nature outside by doing activities such as nature photography, drawing or painting nature scenes, nature journaling, writing nature poetry and stories, and even listening to music while relaxing in the backyard.
- Instead of hosting family holiday dinners at your dining room table, set up your gathering outdoors.
As you can see, there are so many ways to swap screen time for green time. Get started by taking the Screen-Free Week Pledge. You will also find other amazing resources on the Fairplay website, including a screen-free bingo game and a list of 101 screen-free activities.