How to Balance Tech Time and Tree Time

For the last few years, Americans have experienced an epiphany. Parents and educators realized our young adults have remained indoors in front of a screen for far too many hours. So now—we’ve begun to do something about it.

According to a report from Kampgrounds of America (KOA), an organization of privately owned campgrounds, more and more Americans are now spending their discretionary time camping. Since 2014, the percentage of people going camping three or more times a year has increased by over 36 percent. In 2017, half of all campers surveyed said they plan to spend more time camping this year.

Even Millennials are getting in on these outdoor ventures.

More than half of Millennials said they planned to do more camping in 2017. These young adults also represent the ones who most enjoy camping in large groups, made up of ten or more campers.

While I do not consider myself an avid camper, I’ve said for years that kids develop more healthy lifestyles when empowered to spend time outside—in a 3-dimensional world, not merely inside in front of a 2-dimensional screen. We develop emotionally, socially and physically into more healthy people when we add outside experiences to our extensive hours spent inside. We need time climbing, sightseeing, hiking, and reflecting in the great outdoors.

Now, here’s the catch.

Campers, young and old alike, still do not want to unplug completely.

According to the KOA report, 95 percent of campers bring some kind of technology with them on their trip. What’s more, 37 percent report that some kind of technology was actually required for their trip; technology enabled them to spend more time outdoors. Almost half of respondents said that free Wi-Fi was a big factor when determining where to stay.

So How Do We Balance Tech Time and Tree Time?

There’s nothing wrong with taking your phone on your camping trip…but is there a balance? Do we really “get away” when tethered to our portable device? My goal in writing about this is to allow our outside time to do its best work on us. When I am outside, I want to get enough time in the sun that I absorb some Vitamin D without inviting skin cancer. I want to walk and hike enough that I gain strength in my legs and heart, but not have a heart attack. You get the idea.

So what are some simple steps to experience the best of both worlds?

Set limits and boundaries.

If you take your portable devices with you, be intentional about the limitations you set on using them. One of the greatest benefits of getting outside is the freedom we feel from the normal stressors of life. Gadgets can be a source of stress. Be sure that your “unplugged” hours are more than the hours you spend plugged into a gadget. You may suggest that everyone unplug from their phone at night—to foster conversation.

Spend enough time that you forget about checking your phone.

Going camping or spending time outside should offer you a sense of relief. Be sure that you allow yourself enough time away from the rat race that you actually forget about the routine of checking your phone for messages. Phones have been proven to be addictive. Being outside should represent temporary relief from that addiction. Try to be outside long enough that you build a new routine.

Try to go a day without depending on technology to live.

I’m amazed at how much I rely on 21st century technology to make it through my day. When possible, attempt to do your outside activities without relying on a gadget to help you. Build your intellectual and social muscles by figuring out how to reach your goals without using your Google reflex. This may sound absurd, but I love the challenge of problem-solving the old-fashioned way—by thinking on my own.

Stay until your sensory awareness increases.

We’ve all heard of blind or deaf people who say their other four senses become stronger since they must make up for their lack of eyesight or hearing. When we cut the cord to our technology, we can actually grow more aware of our surroundings and be more sensitive to the outside world. I encourage you to plan for extended periods of time away from your devices; long enough to get stronger in new categories like:

  • Cognitive problem solving
  • Emotional and social awareness
  • Empathy and human understanding
  • Spiritual awareness and even passion

New research on teens from the American College of Pediatricians shows that as their screen time increases, so does the likelihood of negative outcomes—like bad grades or depression. The report says, “Excessive exposure to screens (television, tablets, smartphones, computers, and video game consoles), especially at early ages, has been associated with lower academic performance, increased sleep problems, obesity, behavior problems, increased aggression, lower self-esteem, depression, and increased high risk behaviors, including sexual activity at an earlier age.”

Let’s lessen the risk of these negative outcomes by getting outside.

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How to Balance Tech Time and Tree Time