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  • Autumn Quiles, LCSW

Green Time for Screen Time

A study came out a few days ago in the Journal of American Medical Association Psychiatry about kids and screen-time. The study involved nearly 6,600 kids, aged 12-15, and how much time they reported being connected to social media. Researchers concluded: Adolescents who spend more than 3 hours per day using social media may be at heightened risk for mental health problems, particularly internalizing problems.

This is not new news to parents of tweens and teens that have phones. In fact, involvement in social media is one of the hot topics that I work on with families.

We are gathering more research, as a mental health community, about the effects of screen time on our kids. Right now, I don't think there is a consensus amongst scientific bodies. But there is a general consensus with parents: too much screen time morphs their kid into someone they don't like.

So whaddya do about it?

There is an emerging movement in the mental health community supporting the idea of nature therapy. This is the idea that reconnecting with the outdoors, with the earth and nature, has a way of grounding us and giving us back to ourselves. The idea that we learn to be gentle with ourselves because nature is gentle. The concept behind the book The Hidden Life of Trees comes into play here. There is a fantastic researcher, Jaqueline Swank, at UF who has been working on some serious studies about play and nature.

Then, there is a play therapist in Tennessee, Jamie Langley, who has been blazing a trail, right across the middle of the country, showing that nature therapy, particularly playing in nature, is a powerful therapeutic tool. She has further suggested that she believes time in nature is a natural "antidote" to the problem of too much screen-time. She advises her clients to "trade green time for screen time"... urging parents to insist that, if kids want screen time, they spend and equal (if not more) amount of time outside in the green.

I think this is genius. I recommend trading screen time for green time whenever I find a kid who is too absorbed by The Screens. Incidentally, I also believe that what is good for the goose, is also good for the gander: I recommend the same thing- screen time for green time-to my parents who can't seem to put down those phones.

I take heart in the idea that as fast as we can see the problem of too-much-screen-time blooming, there are already some natural solutions growing.

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