Nature as Medicine for Teens
By Emma Silver
In a world that necessitates connection via screens, phones, and social media, teens are plugged in now more than ever. While society tends to tout this connectivity as a positive, one of the tradeoffs is a disconnect from the planet and a distancing from the natural world.
On average, today’s kids spend up to 44 hours per week in front of a screen, and less than 10 minutes a day playing outdoors. This has been exacerbated by the pandemic, and we’re seeing more and more the ways in which this has impacted children’s growth, mental health, and many other aspects of their lives.
Nature has so much to offer our kids in terms of nourishment, growth, and fun, and can serve as an antidote for the negative effects of so much screen time. But what does it mean for teens to be connected with the natural world, and why does it matter?
Time Spent in Nature Builds Important Skills
The natural world has so many important life lessons and skills to offer our teens, and the more time they spend in nature, the more opportunities they have to learn. Studies have shown that time spent outdoors, in community with other kids, enhances a child’s ability to communicate effectively. Effective communication better equips teens to navigate relationships, express how they feel, and function on a team.
Adventures outdoors also hold space for teens to take calculated risks, in an environment that promotes growth and learning and often with the support of adult mentors and guides along the way. At Eden Village West, we know that growth occurs at the edges, and healthy risk taking in the right environment can be empowering and transformative for teens.
Nature Invokes Awe, Which Leads to Gratitude
Awe is defined as “an emotional response to perceptually vast stimuli that transcend current frames of reference” – in other words, things that cause one to say, “Wow!” Time in nature helps to cultivate a sense of awe, curiosity, and appreciation for the natural world and for our lives. It also can help teens in particular to think beyond the scope of their own lives and engage in behaviors that benefit more than just themselves.
At Eden Village West, we work to cultivate awe & gratitude through Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s idea of radical amazement- if we approach our lives with curiosity and wonder, often we’ll find that the ordinary is actually extraordinary. Radical amazement is a great catalyst for gratitude, and can lead to teens finding purpose and fulfillment in each and every moment of their lives.
Time in Nature Reconnects Us to Land & One Another
Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and founder of the New Nature Movement, recently coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder”– the assertion that despite advances in technology, our world is inherently more disconnected. Over and over again, Jewish tradition explicitly names our connection to the earth, reminding us throughout sacred texts of the interconnectedness of all living things.
For teens, making direct connections between the relationship that land, food, and people have to each other is so important. Putting these pieces together increases teens’ capacity for empathy and empowers them to go out and make the world a better place, deepening their relationships with the land and the communities around them.
In this time of immense disconnect and isolation, time in nature has the power to bring teens back into deep, transformative relationship with the world around them, and hopefully even closer to the best versions of themselves. One of the greatest things you can do for your teen (and for yourself!) is to encourage them to spend time outside, reconnecting with nature as a means for recharge, learning, and growth. This sacred time hopefully leads them to an important conclusion– that the many facets of our world are much more connected than we tend to think.
Emma Silver is the Assistant Director of Eden Village West, the Jewish organic farm camp in Sonoma County, CA. An experiential educator and lifelong camper, Emma believes that camp is a microcosm of the world that could be, in addition to being an essential space for campers and staff to wrestle with their Judaism, develop meaningful interpersonal and land-based connections, and be a part of a sacred community that sees each and every member as important.