Kids These Days

Why Is America's Youth Staying Indoors?

“Roughly 76 percent of youth today strongly believe issues like climate change can be solved if action is taken now. They also think safeguarding important lands and waters should be a priority regardless of any ancillary benefits and the struggling economy.”

There is a growing disparity between the time kids spend indoors wired to technology and the time they spend outside enjoying nature. The vast majority of today’s kids use a computer, watch TV, or play video games on a daily basis, but only about 10 percent say they are spending time outdoors every day, according to a new nationwide poll from The Nature Conservancy.

Why? Lack of access to natural areas and discomfort with the outdoors are two primary factors identified by the Conservancy’s poll.

The poll was conducted from July 28 through August 4, 2011, and asked 602 kids between the ages of 13 and 18 about their attitudes toward nature, outdoor activity and environmental issues. Topics covered included:

  • reasons youth do not spend more time in nature,
  • words and phrases used by youth to describe nature, and
  • attitudes toward preserving nature and on other environmental issues of the day.

The bipartisan polling team of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (D) and Public Opinion Strategies (R) conducted the poll, which was funded by The Toyota USA Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, and the Foundation for Youth Investment.

Heat, Lack of Access or Interest—and Even Obesity—Keep Kids Inside

The poll found a wide range of reasons kids don't spend more time outside. However, in the face of record-breaking temperatures across much of the country this summer, discomfort from heat and bugs topped the list of obstacles youth cited for not spending time outdoors:

  • 80 percent said it was uncomfortable to be outdoors due to things like bugs and heat
  • 62 percent said they did not have transportation to natural areas, and
  • 61 percent said there were not natural areas near their homes.

In one of the more surprising results, pollsters found that, among youth whose body mass index classifies them as obese, there are notably lower rates of participation in outdoor activities and less interest in pursuing them in the future.

However, the survey also showed that 66 percent of youth say they "have had a personal experience in nature," that made them appreciate it more.

“That subset of youth is markedly different from those who have not had personal experiences with nature," says David Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates. "They are almost twice as likely to say they prefer spending time outdoors and more than twice as likely to strongly agree that protecting the environment is cool. Clearly, getting kids meaningful experiences outside is key to getting them to care about the environmental issues of our day."

Helping Schools Step Up

Three quarters of the respondents reported they had little if any access to nature through their schools. With school budgets tightening, The Nature Conservancy is pioneering ways to support environmental education inside and outside of the classroom. The LEAF program for instance, works with a network of partner environmental high schools to engage urban youth in conservation activities and help foster future leaders in environmental stewardship.

Exposing kids to nature is a crucial step to getting kids to care about environmental issues, the poll finds. Those with personal, positive experiences with nature were twice as likely to view themselves as strong environmentalists and were significantly more likely to express concern about water issues, air pollution, climate change and the overall condition of the environment.

Kids Care About the Planet

Despite their lack of access to nature, America’s youth do have an over-riding concern with environmental issues and – most importantly – are optimistic that their generation can find solutions to the world’s toughest environmental problems.

The majority also stated that previous generations have damaged the environment and left it to their generation to fix. Roughly 76 percent of youth today strongly believe issues like climate change can be solved if action is taken now. They also think safeguarding important lands and waters should be a priority regardless of any ancillary benefits and the struggling economy.

The poll suggests that the best way to get kids more involved in nature may be through peer pressure – 91 percent said that if a friend encouraged them to spend more time outdoors they would listen.

Also, 90 percent of kids who spent time outside said being in nature and taking part in outdoor activities helped relieve stress.

Read more poll results.

The Conservancy Is Helping Kids Experience Nature

The Nature Conservancy has a long history of working in communities to help kids of all ages experience and appreciate nature. In addition to our LEAF program, with its long-term goal of supporting more than 30 environmental high schools across the country and serving 20,000 students, the Conservancy participates in outdoor education programs across the country.

Each summer since 2000, the Conservancy has helped the students from St. Stephens Episcopal School in Austin, Texas leave the comforts of home to spend a month living and working in the remote and beautiful Davis Mountains of West Texas. The trip provides the students a rare opportunity to unburden themselves of the trappings of city life, even if only for a short while, and to have real, meaningful experiences in the wilderness.

The Wings and Water program of Utah's Great Salt Lake introduces fourth-grade students to wetland conservation through guided file trips staffed by a corps of dedicated volunteer naturalists. The program serves 1,500 students each year.

The Los Angeles Conservation Corps and the Conservancy are partnering on a volunteer project with students performing restoration work on Santa Cruz Island. The Los Angeles Conservation Corps provides at-risk young adults and school-aged youth with job skills training, education and work experience with an emphasis on conservation and service projects that benefit the community.

Alaska’s Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy, which is sponsored by Trout Unlimited with support from the Conservancy and other organizations, is training the region’s young people to explore careers as guides – so young people can stay in the region, earn a prosperous living, advocate for the health of the watershed and offer visitors an authentic experience of one of our country’s most special natural places.

In New York, the Mashomack Preserve’s longest-running and most popular program is the summer Children’s Environmental Education Program. It has taught nature appreciation and conservation ethics to children ages 8-12 since 1989, reaching a total of more than 1,500 kids. These week-long sessions involve activities such as hiking, muddling in a marsh, a canoe and kayak trip and nature art.


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