CIUDAD OBREGÓN, Mexico — Childhood is different for each generation, and one can imagine that modern children have more excuses than ever before to avoid going outside. A few decades ago, most parents blamed the television if their child spent too much time indoors, but today the TV seems tame in comparison to smartphones, tablets, and video games. Now, a new study is making an argument for kids to get back to basics in their play tactics by concluding that children are happier when connected to nature.
According to the team at the Sonora Institute of Technology, spending more time outside promotes more sustainable and environmentally-friendly behavior in children.
It’s no secret that environmental issues are among the hottest topics of our time, and the study’s authors were interested in figuring out how to instill pro-environmental behaviors in children from a young age. After all, it’s our kids who will be taking care of the planet after we’re gone.
Lead author Dr. Laura Berrera-Hernández says that when a child is truly connected to nature, it’s not just about appreciating nature’s beauty. Beyond that, a true connection to nature is characterized as “being aware of the interrelation and dependence between ourselves and nature, appreciating all of the nuances of nature, and feeling a part of it.”
A total of 296 Mexican children took part in the research, all between the ages of nine and 12. Each child filled out a scale in school designed to measure their connectedness to nature, sustainable behavior (environmentally friendly acts, frugality, equity, altruism) and overall happiness. They were also asked to indicate how strongly they agreed with statements like “Humans are part of the natural world,” or “I separate empty bottles to recycle.”
After compiling all the results, the researchers noted that the more connected to nature a child was, the more environmentally conscious action they took, and the happier they reported feeling. Prior research has also found similar results in adults.
While the study’s authors admit their research was fairly limited in its scope, they believe it shows an important relationship between nature and happiness. As well as serious insight into how promoting a positive relationship with nature from a young age can go a long way towards instilling eco-friendly decisions throughout one’s life.
“Parents and teachers should promote children to have more significant contact or exposure to nature, because our results indicate that exposure to nature is related to the connection with it, and in turn, with sustainable behaviors and happiness,” Berrera-Hernández concludes.
The study is published in Frontiers in Psychology.