Over the past decade, parents of young children have been told repeatedly by experts of many stripes: make sure your children are given ample opportunity to spend time outdoors. The benefits to young bodies and minds are many: Greater confidence, increased creativity, reduced stress, to name a few.
Yet, similar missives have been largely absent when it comes to teens. Sure, as a parent, the challenge of encouraging a 14-year old, who would rather be in her room on her smartphone, to amble outdoors is an altogether different situation than chasing after an eager six-year-old itching for the opportunity to climb a tree.
But the fact is, with experts sounding an alarm about the swelling rates of depression and anxiety among teens, we should be thinking of nature as equally essential to our older children as to our younger ones; equally essential to their health and wellbeing.
Giving more teeth to the argument is a recently published paper by researchers from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health; the paper documents lower levels of depression and anxiety among adolescents who live in close proximity to nature. The study was based on an analysis of data from 9000 children ages 12-18, 11.5 percent of which were determined to have depressive symptoms.
We spoke with lead author Carla Bezold who pointed out the gap in research literature involving this age group in particular, a gap her paper addresses. “Many, many studies have been done in adults and younger children, but this is clearly a less studied population,” she said.
At a time when a greater vulnerability to mental health problems is emerging among teens, this paper’s reminder of the power of nature to potentially help stave off depression is incredibly relevant.
Here at TKF, we’re taking note of these latest articles and studies — and thinking about what they mean in an urban context. In many communities, access to nature is limited, thus the vital importance of even small pockets of green. If teens of today and tomorrow are to have the opportunity to benefit from the protective and restorative powers of nature, it must be accessible.
From a public health perspective, Bezold emphasizes the importance of policies that incorporate nature into the built environment. Equally important to achieving greener communities, we believe, are community-based initiatives, both to create the spaces, and to keep people engaged.
Within our network of Sacred Places, in the coming year, we will be collaborating with our Firesouls, with teens in particular in mind, as we imagine programming to draw them out and into nature. We will be sharing our experiences here. We invite you to do the same.