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Unplug to restore vital connection to natural world

March 1, 2017
By JOE HACKETT - Outdoors Columnist ( , Lake Placid News

Child's play may help all of us to live a longer, happier and healthier life. In current times, it is astounding to realize the rapid transformation I've endured - from being a smart-aleck kid on the corner to the old codger down the road.

The late, great comedian Robin Williams once claimed, "If you remember the '70s, you probably weren't there."

I suppose this concept would ring true with the '60s and '80s generations as well.

Article Photos

An icy brook makes its way through a hemlock forest.
Photo — Joe Hackett

I'm old enough to recall those decades, although they often appear a bit foggy at times. They were the decades when the government and common culture often appeared to be out of control.

My most indelible memories of those eras are the times I was free to range wide and wild through the local woods and waters. There were no protestors out there, and it was easy to escape the flickering images of war and protests that flashed across the television screen every evening.

We were allowed to play outside until dinner. We were always unattended and unsupervised. No one was ever seriously injured, although I do recall having a sore noggin at times, usually in the aftermath of an apple flinging war or a snowball fight. It's sad to think that today's kids will probably never know such freedoms.

Childhood as we once knew it has largely moved indoors. The average American kid now spends only about four to seven minutes of unstructured outdoor play each day. Minutes?!

And yet, the same kid will spend more than seven hours each day in front of an electronic screen. Fewer still will be the number of recreational activities that they will share with others, especially adults.

If you ask anyone over 40 to recount their most treasured childhood memories of play, it's likely that very few of them were conducted indoors.

Independent, unsupervised outdoor play is what we will remember 20 or 30 years in the future. Studies indicate that only 21 percent of today's kids regularly play outside, compared with the 71 percent of their parents who played outside.

Most adults can still remember playing outside until they were called in for dinner. Today's kids will probably never have to heed that call. Play is now primarily conducted indoors because that's where the outlets can be found.

Unfortunately, many handheld devices now provide kids with an opportunity to take their electronic devices on the road.

The trend toward indoor, electronic-based recreation has had a profound impact on the wellness of our nation's kids. Childhood obesity rates have doubled over the last 20 years, and the United States is now the largest consumer of ADHD medications in the world.

It is interesting to note that during the same timespan, pediatric prescriptions for anti-depressants have risen precipitously.

Today's kids are tuned in, stressed out and out of shape because they're missing out on a vital connection to the natural world.

Most parents realize that outdoor play increases fitness levels and builds active, healthy bodies, yet one in three American kids are considered obese.

Spending time outside is important to our health. It raises levels of Vitamin D, which helps to protect children from future bone problems, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues.

But most importantly, it's just plain fun being outside.



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