Helping Children Balance Their Busy Digital Lives.
It's a Fact. Our Children May Be Facing a Serious Mental Health Crisis.
Dear, Parents, Grandparents, and Guardians, a recent study from Stanford Health found that, each day, American children spend on average seven or more hours in front of various screens and only less than ten minutes playing outdoors? (1) In other words, kids are learning, communicating, and playing faster, longer, and on more devices than ever before.
I started looking deeper into the relationship our children have with technology because, in my humble opinion, this increase in “digital consumption” is not just affecting their lives in unprecedented ways, but it also seems to correlate with the global prevalence of mental health issues, which are finally starting to get the attention they deserve.
I also hope you can find a few minutes to read my research (below), based on the official Advisory of the U.S. Surgeon General labeled “Protecting Youth Mental Health,” in which Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy warns about a serious mental health crisis our children and young adults could be facing. (2 Download the PDF here >) A few months later, Surgeon General released a new advisory about the effects of social media use on our youth (3 Download the DPDF here>). Well, in my humble opinion, the crisis is already here, because, according to the CDC, 1 in 6 U.S. children ages 2–8 years (17.4%) had a diagnosed mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder. (4)
Our Children's Relationship With Nature and Technology.
By Tomas Kohoutek
(5 Min read)
It’s official. Computers, AI, robots, and virtual reality have become an essential part of our evolution, and kids love it. They don’t just use it to play fun video games and to hang out on social media, they also depend on it to survive in this modern world, learn faster, and be more connected. But are our children, who are constantly immersed in their tech, properly adapting to it? Do they have all the skills and tools needed to balance their busy digital lives and cope with their struggles, stress, and first anxieties on their own? If not, whom do they talk with? Do you know?
While there are plenty of brilliant teachers and gurus out there helping grownups deal with their physical and mental challenges, I could not find many mentors that our kids could learn from or follow on their own terms. And since, as a child, I had to face many difficult situations, I decided to do something about it. For the sake of our future generations, I decided to travel the world in search of the best childhood counselors, and what I found will surely blow your socks off.
During my travels, I had a chance to meet many wise gurus and take notes from plenty of valuable books, but the knowledge I collected from Mother Nature and her furry friends — wild teddy bears — was by far the most profound thing I learned about.
Their insights, guidance, and tools helped me improve my physical and mental health so much, I decided to dedicate the rest of my life to learning everything there is to know about them and their powerful healing methods.
But what about our children, who are just on the brink of developing their first defenses? How do they cope with their stress, troubles at home and school, and all the technology that’s constantly competing for their attention? How well are they adapting to this new digital world?
Unfortunately, urbanization and the growing need for technology keep redefining the relationship our children have with nature. Information overload is one of the most common side effects of our the new digital era. It occurs when a child consumes too much information from the web, video games, or TV and doesn’t get enough device-free time to process it. Balancing our children’s hyperdigital adventures with simpler toys and sprinkling some quiet time, ideally in the natural world, is a simple and effective way to help your children develop a healthier lifestyle.
The Official Mental
In 2019, the Covid-19 pandemic amplified the fragile mental states of our children and finally exposed the global mental health crisis. In the U.S. alone, the rate of mental disorders among children skyrocketed to the point that in 2022 the U.S. Surgeon General issued a rare advisory labeled “Protecting Youth Mental Health,” (2) in which he warned that our children and young adults could be facing a serious mental health crisis.
The advisory states:
“Recent national surveys of young people have shown alarming increases in the prevalence of certain mental health challenges—in 2019, one in three high school students and half of the female students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, an overall increase of 40% from 2009.” We know that mental health is shaped by many factors, from our genes and brain chemistry to our relationships with family and friends, neighborhood conditions, and larger social forces and policies. We also know that, too often, young people are bombarded with messages through the media and popular culture that erode their sense of self-worth, telling them they are not good-looking enough, popular enough, smart enough, or rich enough. And all of that comes as progress on legitimate and distressing problems like climate change, income inequality, racial injustice, the opioid epidemic, and gun violence feels too slow.
And while technology platforms have improved our lives in important ways — increasing our ability to build new communities, deliver resources, and access information — we know that, for many people, those platforms can also have adverse effects. When not deployed responsibly and safely, these tools can pit us against one another, reinforce negative behaviors like bullying and exclusion, and undermine the safe and supportive environments young people need and deserve. All of that was true even before the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically altered young people’s experiences at home, at school, and in the community. The pandemic era’s unfathomable number of deaths, pervasive sense of fear, economic instability, and forced physical distancing from loved ones, friends, and communities have exacerbated the unprecedented stresses young people already faced.” (2)
While the advisory does a great job of highlighting a wide variety of risks, calling for a greater systemic change and providing solid recommendations for individuals and institutions that care for our children, I’d like to know how many parents and caregivers actually heard about this study, had time to read it, and, most importantly, took some action.
Technology keeps moving forward at unprecedented speed, often leaving us grownups behind. But our curious and fearless children are going with the flow and moving forward without comprehending the dangers and consequences that come with their tech.
In the past, parents would rely on Mother Nature for some of the healing and balancing. People would play and work in nature more often and, in return, nature would fine-tune their minds and bodies like a violin — automatically and on the go. Unfortunately, today, playing outdoors or hanging out in the park may seem to children too quiet and slow, if not completely boring, so it’s no surprise that Mother Nature can’t seem to compete with all the modern gadgets we all use for fun, learning, and communication. But if our children are no longer interested in having fun in nature, then who or what helps them relax, heal, and balance their virtual lives, if not us?
The problem is that most of the parents, educators, and guardians everywhere are just as overwhelmed, stressed, and exhausted as the children around them. The researchers at Ohio State University confirmed that “Sixty-six percent (66%) of parents reported being burned out.” (5) Many parents, including myself, are working around the clock to make ends meet, so there’s never enough time for anything.
Yet if we fail to connect with our children, or won’t even try having a healthy family conversation on some of the less-talked-about topics like nature, healing, and mindfulness — then someone or something else will surely fill the void. It may be tempting to wait for schools, health organizations, and technology companies to provide us with more statistics, give us further guidance on how to deal with the current epidemic of mental problems, or, perhaps, develop some convenient Mental Health app. But as you already know, no app can do the hard work for us. We — the parents, caregivers, and guardians — need to act, and we need to act now by doing our own research and providing our children with extra support and tools that will help them cope with this new world and teach them how to take control of their minds, bodies, and souls — ideally on their own.
How Can We All Help Our Children Thrive?
Well, as you know, inspiring or guiding our children takes a lot of time and energy. So, make sure to keep it simple. Perhaps start with a subtle conversation: Ask your children about how they feel and what they’re grateful for. The special time around the dinner hour seems to work best for our family. You can then ask your loved ones whether there is something that bothers them, upsets them, or even hurts them. But since our children don’t always know how to share the feelings that trouble them, you may need to take it to the next level by blending these essential conversations into children’s favorite activities, whether it’s a little ice cream break, a hike in the woods, or playtime. Finally, you can balance children’s digital arsenal by bringing to life their own teddies, plushies, and stuffies.
These are, in my opinion, just a few of the easiest but still very effective ways to help your children start developing a healthier lifestyle. More than that, according to a recent study done by the American Academy of Pediatrics (APP), simple toys are some of the most beneficial toys for our children. The study suggests that parents “Make a thoughtful selection of toys and remember that a good toy does not have to be trendy or expensive. Indeed, sometimes the simplest toys may be the best, in that they provide opportunities for children to use their imagination to create the toy use, not the other way around. Choose toys that will grow with the child, foster interactions with caregivers, encourage exploration and problem-solving, and spark the child’s imagination.” (6)
In other words, teddies and other stuffies are still some of the best helpers and mentors you can find. Don’t believe me? Just ask your kids about their own furry friends and how much they mean to them. I promise you that once you realize how close these creatures actually are to your children and you start understanding their secret language, you will be able to tap into those relationships and connect with children on a new, deeper, and more creative level.
To learn more, check out our innovative children’s story, which doubles as a personal-development book. It is designed to help children everywhere start a healthy family conversation about their struggles, worries, and stress while teaching them about nature, healing, and mindfulness — some of the most important ingredients missing from our lives today.
1 Stanford Health: Top 5 benefits of children playing outside
2 Protecting Youth Mental Health: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory
4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health
5 The Ohio State University: Pandemic Parenting: Examining the Epidemic of Working Parental Burnout and Strategies to Help https://wellness.osu.edu/sites/default/files/documents/2022/05/OCWO_ParentalBurnout_3674200_Report_FINAL.pdf
6 American Academy Of Pediatrics: Selecting Appropriate Toys for Young Children in the Digital Era https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/