What to do? A range of interventions and culture shifts are needed, but one especially effective tool might surprise you: Get these kids outside.
Louv’s work reveals that time spent in nature correlates with a decline in anxiety and depression, as well as an increase in a sense of belonging. As Louv writes, “Green space fosters social interaction and thereby promotes social support.” In other words, kids who get outside make connections with other kids.
School retreats for relationships
The H. E. Butt Foundation camp property sits on nearly 2,000 acres of beautiful waterfronts, rugged terrain, and a variety of plant and animal life that, in effect, answer Louv’s clarion call. Every spring and fall, the Outdoor School program hosts 3-day retreats, primarily for urban schools in low-income districts, filled with adventurous outdoor activities geared to cultivate relationships and build healthier adolescents.
“There are massive amounts of challenges facing students, schools, and communities,” says Outdoor School director Erik Silvius. His list of core concerns includes “bleak levels of physical health, feelings of isolation resulting in mental health struggles, lack of community connectedness, and fewer relationships with nature.”
He’s right. A 2015 report by Common Sense Media revealed that 8- to 12-year-olds spent an average of 4 hours and 36 minutes on screen media every day. Research among an older age group shows that roughly 20 percent of 14- to 17- year-olds spent 7 hours or more a day on screens.
So what happens when students go from hours and hours of scrolling, typing, and double-tapping to three days with no phone service?