“Just being surrounded by bountiful nature, rejuvenates and inspires us.”
– EO Wilson (Theory of Biophilia)
Think back to some of your favorite childhood memories. Try to pull out the details of the memory and take note of what you saw, felt, and touched. Does the memory involve nature or animals? If it does, you’re not alone. Humans have a core need for the natural world, and when most of us remember our favorite moments, they usually take place outdoors or in places of natural beauty. This connection to the outside world isn’t coincidental, and research is increasingly showing us the need for connection to the natural world. This is particularly true for children.
Pre-Covid the American Academy of Pediatrics estimated that the average child spent 7 hours a day on electronic devices. Covid introduced virtual school, and the public schools in Alexandria switched to having children and teens isolated and on devices day after day. These decisions were made to protect kids, but those of us who work in child and adolescent mental health see the other side of this. We see the kids who retreated into their homes, their devices, and themselves, and we see the cost of this on their mental health. It has been and continues to be devastating.
“Allow nature’s peace to flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.”
– John Muir
This summer, right now, is an opportunity for kids and teens to get outside and reconnect with nature and simultaneously reconnect with themselves. The last several years of restrictions have shrunk down our worlds to limited people and spaces. We now need to work (safely!) with kids to build these worlds back up. A starting place is right outside your door. Research shows that hands-on contact with nature actually builds self-esteem and increases kids’ overall sense of well-being. This can include playing with a hose, building a dam in a creek, digging in the dirt, making fairy houses out of moss and leaves or using twigs to make new worlds. The simplest acts can have significant positive impacts.
“Nature itself is the best physician”
Mental health is complex and the current mental health struggle right now is real and devastating. There will need to be shifts in policy and intervention far beyond anything I can write about here, but there is something that you can do to help the kids and teens in your life today. Now. Go outside. Walk to the creek. Find a path among trees. Watch squirrels in the park. Build boats out of sticks and grass. Sit in a wooded area. Listen to the sounds around you. These simple activities are crucial steps to helping kids reconnect with themselves, the world and nature. These most basic steps won’t fix everything – not even close – but they will bolster spirits and resilience to help us all move forward.