Research Summary

Outdoor time, screen time, and connection to nature: Troubling trends among rural youth?

Escalating screen time is having a negative influence on rural youths’ time outdoors and their connectedness to nature

Environment and Behavior
2018

This study explored relationships between outdoor time, screen time (media-based activities), and connection to nature (CTN) in a sample of rural youth from South Carolina. Most of the youth lived in low-income regions of the state with racially and ethnically diverse populations. CTN refers to an individual’s affective relationship with nature and contributes to an individual’s well-being and conservation orientation.

Over 500 students (age 11-14) completed surveys focusing on the amount of time they spend outdoors and time with electronic media. The survey also included adapted versions of two measures of CTN: The Nature Relatedness (NR) scale and the Inclusion of Nature in Self (INS) scale. Questions about outdoor time and screen time asked students to provide their best estimate of average time they spent for each activity (outdoor time and screen time) during school and outside of school. For their time estimates, students were asked to consider both weekdays and weekends.

Results showed that most rural youth in South Carolina are spending time outdoors and that many of them are connected to nature. Yet, screen time was higher than outdoor time for almost every demographic group included in the study. This was especially true for females, African American youth, and youth from “other” (non-white) racial backgrounds. CTN scores were higher for males and White youth than other students. Screen time increased significantly as youth moved from sixth to eighth grade. Along with this increase in screen time, there was a decrease in CTN scores. In fact, the combined outdoor time and screen time explained a significant portion of the differences in CTN scores. These results indicate that, for the students participating in this study, outdoor time was a significant positive predictor of CTN and screen time a significant negative predictor.

These findings are consistent with other research showing that escalating screen time during adolescence negatively impacts outdoor time and connection to nature. These finding also suggest that initiatives seeking to increase CTN in youth would do well to focus on two groups at particularly high risk: females and African American youth.