We are not among the legions that see technology as an evil to be feared. (We love our I-phones). However, we do believe we should think through the ramifications of how technological changes affect our children before we automatically embrace the next and newest gadgets. To our knowledge no one has yet written a parenting guide for the digital age. We all know the facts: A child today is five times more likely to play a video game than ride a bike. in 2010 the average 13 year old sent 3700 texts a month and spent 7.5 hours a day (53 hours / week) with some type of digital media. (Pew) By age 21, that same teenager, if a boy, will have played 10,000 hours of video games (compared with 4800 hours needed to obtain his bachelor’s degree). In 2013 the numbers are certain to be even higher!
No one should deny that digital media is fun! The good news is that despite the obvious distraction of video games, most kids are still doing the same amount of homework (albeit frequently multi-tasking while studying) and still playing plenty of organized sports. It’s the time spent outdoors in nature in the company of friends that is getting displaced. Research shows that this collaborative play outside is the very activity that boosts kids’ creativity, collaboration and communication skills.
A recent post on our Facebook page by a non-Adventure Treks kid gave us cause for distress. “I don’t see the point of going outside to hike and look at mountains. I can see everything I want to see on the internet…and that’s what the internet is for!” While this is not a typical kid in 2013, do we need to worry that it could be in 2020?
At Adventure Treks, we get to watch the benefits outdoor experiences bring to digital-age teenagers every day. The cognitive and social benefits of time spent in nature are now well documented.The physical benefits are obvious; others are more subtle. Research shows that children have better brain development, and are both mentally and physically healthier if they play outside frequently. Nature experiences significantly reduce children’s stress, (and we are currently raising the most stressed out generation in history) while enhancing cognitive flexibility, problem-solving ability, self-esteem, and self-discipline. A 2012 British study on the restorative effects of nature demonstrates how time spent in nature can improve both executive function and creativity skills.
Adventure Treks is one of the very few places where teenagers will voluntarily give up their electronics and thank their parents for it! Adventure Treks is a reward, and providing a reward as an alternative to technology is always an easier parenting strategy than simply taking electronics away.
Adventure Treks unplugs us from the electronic umbilical cord. All communication is face to face and there are numerous opportunities to develop creativity and improve social competence and cohesion. At Adventure Treks, kids get to practice interpersonal interactions 16 hours a day and they get better at it. This refinement happens naturally and in a fun and exciting environment. Perhaps the best thing is that they make new friends and learn from great instructor mentors who facilitate the process.
Another benefit is a more nuanced one, when students actually unplug from electronics, they learn how that feels. Unlike their parents, many kids have never experienced life before Google, video games or a smart phone. When they experience firsthand the benefits of cultivating the interpersonal skills that their peers may be neglecting, they develop a new framework that helps them keep their technology in perspective. When electronics are returned at the end of an extended trip outdoors, they are able to observe first- hand the fundamental changes in both behavior and communication styles that comes from leaving a technology free world and reentering a world powered by the smart phone. While a return to electronics is always thrilling, teens also realize that there were also benefits to a world without technology. They now feel more empowered to make decisions about how they think technology should fit into their own lives. They now know that technology need not be all consuming. They realize they have a choice… And sometimes just giving them that power is all they need.
By John Dockendorf and Steve Baskin