Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=209804
Story Retrieval Date: 12/8/2013 4:31:30 PM CST
Data from The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation Study, "Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds"
As research shows time in nature has mental, physical and emotional benefits, other studies show children are still spending more time in front of a screen.
Activities such as watching television and movies, playing video games and surfing the internet on the computer, activities typically done indoors, take up more than 7.5 hours of a child's average day, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation study released in 2010. That number is up 35 percent from five hours per day in 1999.
All that time spent using electronics can contribute to children's inability to focus, says Dr. Karla Steingraber, a clinical psychologist licensed in Illinois and Wyoming. She specializes in behavioral and developmental disorders in children and adolescents, the diagnoses of which are increasing along with those hours consumed by media, something she says is not a coincidence.
In 2010, doctors diagnosed 10.4 million children in the U.S. with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Ten years ago, in 2000, doctors issued only 6.2 million of those diagnoses.
"There is an emotional component to why these kids can't focus," said Steingraber. "It does a lot to be exposed to things that aren't competitive in nature."
Compared to classroom assignments completed for a grade, there is no right or wrong way to observe animals and plants in the outdoors, she said. The absence of that pressure alone can calm children.
Liza Sullivan says that pressure starts with the schools and trickles down from parent to child.
"You want to make sure your kids are set for school," she said. "So a lot of parents sign their kids up for extra classes to get ready and there's this feeling of frenzy."
"New Trier fear" is the term more frequently used among parents of the north suburbs. New Trier High School in Winnetka ranked 139th on Newsweek's 2011 list of best high schools in the country.
Sullivan is using her experience of teaching her children through Chicago's wilderness to send a message to parents who might have similar feelings of intimidation.
"The more that I can help parents to understand they can slow down and their kids are going to be fine academically and socially, and maybe even more so because they have an amazing foundation," she said, "the more parents may venture outside of their typical idea of play."