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From Earth Day to Screen-Free Week: a natural progression

Vaseline 4 weeks ago

As we approach Earth Day on April 22, this is a perfect time to reflect on the progress we’ve made and the road ahead to preserve our planet.

Earth Day has been around since 1970 and was largely initiated by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. His call to action resonated strongly among college campuses and America’s younger generation, many of whom were already actively protesting the Vietnam War. This is a success story when the government listened to the will of the people, passed clean water and air laws, and created an environmental protection agency that is still with us today.

As we celebrate Earth Day, it reminds us that protecting the planet never ends. While progress has been made, we have gone backwards when it comes to the number of young people spending time outdoors. Nearly half of American teens spend an average of eight hours a day on screens. This is disturbing. Our ability to protect and conserve is directly linked to our understanding of the environment around us and the personal encounters we experience. One of our goals this year should be to motivate our children to break away from technology and spend more time outside.

With current legislative efforts to ban TikTok and implement age restrictions on social media, the public is becoming aware of this new environmental threat. Research shows that excessive screen time in children can lead to stress, loneliness and sleep problems. Jonathan Haidt, author of the new book “The Anxious Generation,” highlights this connection between screen time, children’s well-being and losing unstructured time to explore the outdoors.

The good news is that we can reverse this. Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods,” emphasizes how spending time outdoors can make children happier and less stressed. Playing outside is not only fun; it is also educational. Kids can learn fascinating new things about plants and animals, and even survival skills, as championed by outdoorsman Steven Rinella of the Netflix show “Meateater.” The outdoors also promotes social connection. Robert Putnam, a sociologist specializing in community engagement, emphasizes the importance of outdoor play in learning teamwork and social skills. This helps children feel connected and connected to something bigger than themselves.

This Earth Day, use it as a springboard to assess your child’s screen time. Look for outdoor activities during Screen Free Week (May 6-12). Explore Florida’s parks and wildlife management areas. Take a long walk and look for insects and birds. Plan and find a summer camp where you can develop many practical skills such as kayaking, fishing and wildlife exploration.

In the long run, nurturing a love for nature isn’t just about happier, healthier children, it’s an absolute urgency in protecting the environment and creating the next generation that cares about it.

Daniel Parker is the former director of the Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network at the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. He can be reached at [email protected]

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