Author: Robyn Ehrlich, PWF Education Manager
In what seemed like an instant, our lives have become almost entirely dependent on screens. As we navigate this transition, it is important to consider the benefits — and concerns — of this new virtual world we live in. Although opinions vary, many have tried to answer the question, “How much is too much screen time?” While it is worth evaluating how much screen time is appropriate, particularly for children, it is also important to recognize that all screen time is not the same.
On the positive end of the spectrum, technology – and screen time – have allowed us to remain connected to one another during this unprecedented time. As the global pandemic forced us to be physically distant from each other, technology allowed us to remain close. For some people, this meant making time to stay in touch – and even video chat – with people they otherwise rarely see or speak with. This technology has proven so important during this time; it has allowed education and work to continue for many of us, though it looks significantly different than we ever could have imagined!
In addressing the different types of screen time that have varying impacts, it is critical to be aware of the following: Passive screen time (such as watching videos or scrolling through social media) does not require much physical or mental activity from the user, and is the type of screen time we may want to carefully limit. Too much passive screen time has been associated with poor psychological and academic outcomes for children. Active screen time requires physical activity and/or thought from the user. This type of screen time has been associated with mental and physical benefits, including decreased stress, increased happiness, increased attention, increased creativity, increased pro-environmental behavior, and improved fitness and overall health. Although some passive screen time is acceptable, we recommend a balance that is heavily weighted to include more active than passive screen time.
In “normal” times, we rarely would recommend using simulations or activities on a screen as a substitute for real experiences. At present, however, many real experiences are not possible, and virtual activities involving active screen time can provide us with the next best thing. In our education efforts, for example, we always strive to provide engaging programs with opportunities for interaction and hands-on activities. As soon as in-person programs were no longer an option, we found new ways to share the same types of programs through live and pre-recorded videos. The activities shared in our videos are examples of active screen time; the viewer can simultaneously conduct the hands-on activity demonstrated in the video – at home. These videos can be found at: https://www.pacificwhale.org/education/education-resources/. Additionally, we have created a virtual version of our Ocean Camp program that features live interaction and hands-on activities through a video conferencing platform.
Studies have shown that time spent in nature provides mental and physical benefits, thereby improving overall health.
As author and journalist Richard Louv said, “The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.” So, in addition to considering the type and amount of screen time you or your keiki are consuming, a balance between screen time and green time is important to keep in mind. Studies have shown that time spent in nature, even simply sitting under a tree, has both mental and physical benefits, including increased cognitive function and imagination, decreased stress, increased attention span, and improved fitness and overall health.
Regardless of where “home” may be for you, here are some ways to spend your “green time.”
- Relax and use your senses. Observe the sights, listen to the sounds, take in the scents and (safely) experience your surroundings
- Read a book outdoors
- Conduct a beach or neighborhood cleanup
- Go on a scavenger hunt. Try to find an item of each color of the rainbow, try to find an item whose name begins with each letter of the alphabet or create your own!
- Play or practice a sport
- Go for a walk or run
- Try one of our video activities, such as the Animal Obstacle Course, that can be completed outdoors
We all know screen time will be a part of our lives for the foreseeable future, so make sure you are maximizing your keiki’s screen time and make sure to get them outdoors to enjoy the beauty and wonder of nature!