Finally, what seemed like the longest winter in memory is over. I’m grateful to spend time soaking up the sun, walking and biking along the boardwalk in my Long Beach neighborhood.
But during my excursions, it saddens me to see how many young people are isolated and clueless about the beauty of the world surrounding them. Most are staring down at their phones as they text or scroll through their Instagram feeds.
For other kids, their tech device of choice doesn’t even make it out of the house. It can be a perfect spring day and these youngsters prefer to stay indoors, playing video games or glued to some other electronic device.
Regardless of their protestations otherwise, a number of these children and teens are not only lonely and miserable, they’re also at risk of a host of problems.
Here are just a few: We all know that obesity is an epidemic in our culture, and a big reason is that our kids’ addiction to gadgets means they’re not outside running around and playing. When kids spend all their time on Facebook instead of face-to-face with their peers, they feel isolated and alone. Research suggests that nature-deprived kids are prone to anxiety and depression.
Here at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, we’ve seen firsthand how children blossom when they “get back to the garden.” At our Roslyn Heights headquarters, groups of children and teens water, seed and weed our organic bed, and they are filled with joy when they see the vegetables grow. Moreover, since much of the produce they harvest is donated to local food pantries, they experience the pride that comes from helping others.
Through their work in the garden, kids who were shy and insecure developed self-confidence and made new friends. They learned leadership and team-building skills. Tending the garden and watching it grow intensified their sense of wonder and curiosity.
Gardening helps kids connect to the earth, to each other and, yes, even to their parents. Young children will be in awe as you show them the fruits (and vegetables) of your joint labor. If your teens are reluctant to work with you, expose them to tools that they can begin to master—and don’t be surprised if they end up joining you in the garden.
Another plus: Gardeners achieve a natural state of calm and focus called “mindfulness.” Though people often associate it with meditation, mindfulness doesn’t require hours of prayerful silence or chanting mantras. Mindfulness at its core is about staying in the present, moment by moment, to feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations and the surrounding environment.
Mindfulness is an inherent part of the experience of gardening; it gives kids new ground to stand on, both literally and figuratively, embracing their senses of sight, smell, sound, touch and taste. Mindfulness in nature calms the brain, allowing for reflection and healing and it’s also great for the body.
If gardening isn’t up your alley, not to worry. Being outdoors—whether hiking, biking or swimming—restores the spirit. There’s bound to be an activity your kids will enjoy.
So, whether you are 8 or 80, take advantage of the beautiful weather and find your bliss. It’s right outside your door.
Andrew Malekoff is the executive director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, which provides comprehensive mental health services for children from birth through 24 and their families. To find out more, visit www.northshorechildguidance.org.