It’s a common complaint that kids these days don’t get outside enough. There may be something to that claim, as well, with parents of 8 to 12 year olds saying in one survey that their children spent three times as much time playing on screens as playing outside.
Intuitively, you might suspect that children who don’t spend much time in nature are missing out on something. But what exactly does being connected to nature mean for kids?
A new study from researchers in Canada, published in Frontiers in Psychology, highlights a couple possible benefits.
The study surveyed 296 children between the ages of 9 and 12, asking them about their connection to nature. In this case, connection to nature was defined to include factors like seeing human beings as inextricably part of the natural world, and appreciating nature’s sights, sounds and other sensations.
It turned out that children with a higher sense of connectedness to nature stood out in a couple ways. First, they engaged in more sustainable behaviors. These included taking actions that are ecologically friendly, consuming less, helping others, and believing in social equity.
In other words, being connected to nature may go along with becoming a good member of society and promoting the social good. Besides engaging in more sustainable behaviors, though, children with a greater connection to nature also turned out to be happier on average.
The researchers found some statistical evidence consistent with the idea that engaging in sustainable behaviors was the link between connectedness to nature and happiness. In other words, it may be that having more of a connection to nature increased sustainable behaviors, which in turn increased happiness.
That said, the cause-and-effect behind this study is still speculative, and there’s a need for more research. But the idea that connection to nature and happiness go together has held up in other research. One meta-analysis of previous studies found evidence for a small but significant relationship between connectedness to nature and happiness.
Based on those results and the latest study, then, we can at least tentatively suggest that if we want kids to be happy and socially responsible, helping them learn to appreciate nature probably won’t hurt!