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When was the last time you and your teen went on a walk? Or a camping trip? Or simply spent screen-free time in nature? On average, American children only spend 4 to 7 minutes per day outside compared to more than 7 hours per day in front of a screen device.[1] And with young people being more likely than ever to have mental health challenges, solutions to improve physical and mental health are critical. This is why we created the Screen Safety Essentials Course. This comprehensive mega course gives you everything you need to grow closer as a family and get screen safe. Luckily many studies have found that spending time in nature can promote peace and happiness. Today’s GKIS article shares the impacts of green time on teen mental health and explains how you can encourage your child to explore the outdoors!

The Consequences of Regular Screen Use

Compared to past generations, today’s youth spend less time outdoors. According to studies, young people start to spend less time outdoors and more time inside as they become older. As kids age, playing in the yard with neighbors is less enticing than socializing online with peers and playing video games. Kids also become more involved in time-consuming pursuits like homework, athletics, community service, and jobs. The combination of excessive screen time and little green time, along with the everyday pressures that teens face, have a large impact on mental health and overall well-being.

Many studies have examined the effects of adolescent screen use. One study found that excessive screen time was linked to:

  • Mental health problems
  • Increased anxiety symptoms
  • Depression/depressive symptoms
  • Depressed affect (in girls)
  • Health complaints
  • Lower academic accomplishment
  • Lower GPA
  • Poor language and math achievement[2]

Research has also found that playing video games was linked to poorer health, emotional functioning, and quality of life. For boys who played video games more frequently during the school year, it was also linked to unsatisfactory academic performance.[2]

The Effect of Nature on the Brain

In a survey conducted by BMC Public Health, young people felt that being in nature had a positive impact on their mental health, with 52% saying that it made them “feel calm when I am out in nature.” Twenty-two percent said that it reduced their anxiety. Seventeen percent reported that it had a positive impact on their physical health and made them “feel more active and in shape.” The majority of the teens surveyed also reported that they wished to spend more time in nature, yet 22% described difficulties that prevent them from doing so, including hectic schedules, the built environment, and COVID-19.[4]

Programs for outdoor education and hiking camps have been linked to higher levels of life satisfaction, mindfulness, and self-esteem. A schoolyard greening intervention was also correlated to lower stress and increased well-being. Outdoor learning has also been shown to increase math performance.[5]

Spending time in nature can encourage imagination and creativity as kids meaningfully engage with their surroundings through unrestricted styles of play. They have greater creative freedom of thought, the ability to plan their own schedules, and a fresh perspective on the world.[3]

What You Can Do

Although screen time is convenient and fun, to avoid the risks of digital injury it’s crucial to schedule time for outdoor play. Here are simple ways you can get your kids reconnected with nature and unplugged from the digital world:

  • Take walks in your neighborhood
  • Start a family garden in your backyard
  • Go on weekly hikes
  • Visit your local park
  • Bring nature indoors by buying houseplants
  • Plan a camping trip
  • Spend time at the beach
  • Participate in outdoor education programs

For more fun ideas for how to spend quality family time and set up your home for safe and productive screen time, check out our Connected Family Course.

Thanks to CSUCI intern, Liliana Esquivel, for researching the impact of green time on child mental health and overall well-being.

I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,

Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty

Works Cited

[1] Cohen, D. (2021). Why Kids Need to Spend Time in Nature. Child Mind Institute.


{2] Oswald, T., et al. (2020). Psychological impacts of “screen time” and “green time” for children and adolescents: A systematic scoping review. PLOS ONE.


[3] Zamora, A., et al. (2021) Exploring the beliefs and perceptions of spending time in nature among U.S. youth. BMC Public Health.


[4] https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-021-11622-x

[5] Bikomeye JC, Balza J, Beyer KM. The Impact of Schoolyard Greening on Children’s Physical Activity and Socioemotional Health: A Systematic Review of Experimental Studies. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jan 11;18(2):535. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18020535. PMID: 33561082; PMCID: PMC7827958.

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