Are Children Choosing Technology over Nature?

Research shows that exposure to nature is an important part of childhood development. Along with the stress reducing properties of nature, play in nature offers the opportunity to explore, develop social relationships, experiment and learn in a way that urban environments do not. According to a recent poll by the Nature Conservancy however, only 10 percent of the children surveyed spend time outside on a daily basis.

In a commercial released this past month (above), Nature Valley Canada highlighted this dwindling connection to nature by asking three generations the question, “When you were a kid, what did you do for fun.” Grandparents and parents in the commercial talked about their adventures gardening, building forts, fishing and picking blueberries while the children interviewed shared their love for video games, texting and watching television. The children actually brag about how much time they spend indoors in front of a video screen and how they would “die” without their tablet. (Flash to teary eyed mother realizing the implications of her son’s description of fun.)

The commercial is nothing if not a powerful comment on the dwindling role of nature in the lives of children. What might be just as interesting as the children’s response in the commercial though is the the response the commercial has received both online and in the media. While many of those commenting on the commercial  in social media express their concern that our children are growing up in a world without nature, there is also a defensive response highlighting the generation gap demonstrated in the commercial. Many write off the children’s comments as nothing more than a difference in hobbies or interests stating that if the technology was available in their grandparents time, they too would be reminiscing about their favorite video game instead of an afternoon hike in the woods.

In an article on the commercial, Adweek took this defensive stance a step further with a headline stating, “Nature Valley Shames Modern Parents for Ruining Their Kids in 3-Minute Technology Hate-On;  Fear the lost childhoods of a generation” and referring to the ad as “curmudgeonly.” And while the article discusses the abilities of a brand such as Nature Valley to take on an issue as big as children’s disconnect with nature, it also questions the existence of the problem in the first place. It should be noted that in the Nature Conservancy survey, a preference for technology was not one of the reasons given for not going outside. 

So the question becomes, are we losing a generation to technology while creating a future population that not only won’t value nature but will have no need for it or is this just an example of differing interests between the generations? Either way, the time children spend in nature does appear to be dwindling. What we don’t know is the long-term effects of our children’s interest in playing with technology over playing in nature. 

What do you think? Should we be concerned about this perceived interest in technology over nature or does the Nature Valley commercial merely highlight a generational difference in how children spend their free time?