Last updated on Jul 7th, 2020 at 02:41 pm

Turn the TV off and take your kids outside to play. A new study reveals even more reasons why children need to spend time in nature…

In comparison with children who spend less time outdoors, kids who have a closer connection with nature are…

  • Less distressed
  • Less hyperactive
  • Have fewer behavioural and emotional difficulties
  • Have better pro-social behaviour

These are the findings of a 16-item parent questionnaire measuring ‘connectedness to nature’ in very young children.

Altogether, 493 families with children aged between two and five participated in the study.

Developed by Dr Tanja Sobko, from the School of Biological Sciences of the University of Hong Kong, and her collaborator Prof Gavin Brown, Director of the Quantitative Data Analysis and Research Unit at the University of Auckland, the questionnaire identified four areas that reflect the child-nature relationship:

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  • Enjoyment of nature
  • Empathy for nature
  • Responsibility for nature
  • Awareness of nature

Interestingly, the study found that children who took greater responsibility for nature also had fewer peer difficulties.

The problem with city living

Our modern, urban lifestyle has been criticised for being one of the main reasons why children are being disconnected from nature.

This disconnect has been linked to less active play and poor eating habits but what’s worse than that is that more young children are stressed and depressed. Sixteen percent of pre-schoolers in Hong Kong and up to 22% in China show signs of mental health problems.

Study: Air pollution linked to intellectual disabilities in children

Why are parents keeping kids indoors?

With recent research proving the health benefits of time spent in nature, many environmental programmes around the world are trying to decrease ‘nature-deficit’ and ‘child-nature disconnectedness’ in order to improve children’s health.

As part of the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s Parma Declaration commitment to providing every child with access to “green spaces to play and undertake physical activity,” WHO has set a 300-metre target for green spaces proximity to cities.

However, despite the extensive, adjacent greenness, families in Hong Kong were found not to be using these areas.

“We noticed a tendency where parents are avoiding nature. They perceive it as dirty and dangerous, and their children, unfortunately, pick up these attitudes. In addition, the green areas are often unwelcoming with signs like “Keep off the grass”, said Dr Sobko.

So, if you often keep your kids entertained by allowing them to play computer games and watch TV indoors, think about the example you’re setting about living a healthy lifestyle.

Source: The University of Hong Kong via

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