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For Children and Families, Time Spent Outdoors Can Be More Valuable Than You Think
Jul 15, 2018 / Pediatrics

By Mary Ellen Dugan, MD
Department of Pediatrics, Southboro Medical Group

As a pediatrician for 30 years, I have oftentimes been inspired and sometimes saddened by changes in our culture. One change that is particularly problematic is the amount of time our children are spending indoors engaged with technology instead of outdoors in nature. Numerous studies have proven the benefits of spending time outdoors to the emotional well-being of children and adults. Now, recent studies are documenting the increases in anxiety, depression and inattention in middle school and high school children and it is directly correlated to the number of hours our youth are spending on technology. I see evidence of this in my practice every day. When the studies are done on younger children, I feel certain we will see similar results in this age group as well.

I strongly recommend that parents work hard to foster the love of the outdoors with their children. It is very valuable for children to run and jump and sing and yell, to throw things and watch how they land, to observe plants and animals in various seasons, to learn about weather through experience. Outdoors, children are more prone to have unique experiences, to use their imaginations, to experience physical fitness and emotional well-being. As schools move to incorporate more technology into curricula, I encourage all families to minimize the use of technological devices at home and to maximize time spent outdoors and time spent together as a family.

Finally, I warn against the effects of cell phones in the lives of children. Now, more than ever before, children are witnessing adults process disturbing information which arrives in the form of text messages, phone calls and web-based information. Ideally, young children could believe that the world is a basically friendly and safe place and that their parents are capable of protecting them from harm. Sadly, adults’ and children’s lives are constantly interrupted by the cell phone with its many messages which are of concern to adults and to children. This is distracting and demoralizing. It clearly contributes to anxiety in our children and I worry that the effects will be permanent.

So, please turn off your cell phones and go outdoors with your family and friends. Pack a lunch and go for a hike, take off your shoes and dip your toes in a stream, watch a red-tailed hawk in the sky search for prey in the field. You, your children and our culture as a whole are sure to reap countless benefits.

For Children and Families, Time Spent Outdoors Can Be More Valuable Than You Think

About Mary Ellen Dugan, MD

Dr. Dugan has been practicing medicine for 31 years. “I knew that I wanted to help people with their health in a very direct way. I chose pediatrics because I am fascinated by the physical, cognitive, and emotional development of humans.” Dr. Dugan specializes in a full range of pediatric and adolescent non-surgical medicine. “I try to communicate directly with the patients as much as possible and to listen very carefully as well as...

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