UK teenagers spend half their waking lives in front of a screen

Modular classroom, art block by The Learning Escape

For the UK’s secondary school children, the past week will have offered a much needed break from the stresses and demands of homework, coursework and exams. Half term is intended to help students relax but the sad truth, as revealed in our latest white paper report, is that most teenagers will have spent the time watching TV, going online or playing on their smartphones, rather than enjoying their outdoor space. Research has shown that Britain’s 11-15 year olds spend 7.5 hours a day - almost half of their waking lives – in front of a screen, an increase of 40% in just ten years.

Of course the UK’s weather plays a part in this trend, for we aren’t lucky enough to have sunny and dry conditions all year round, yet this is not the only obstacle that stops children, and especially teenagers, exploring their natural surroundings. With over a third of 9-12 year olds already signed up to Facebook, virtual communication is fast replacing face to face conversations, and threatening to produce a generation of adults unused to traditional social interaction.

Our previous white paper report focused on the impact of nature deficit disorder on primary school children and suggested that to reverse it, parents and teachers must encourage them to explore and experience the natural world. However the secondary school age group have a degree of autonomy that allows them more responsibility for how to spend their free time. Worryingly research has shown that given the option, 60%of children would prefer to stay inside playing computer games or watching television.

If we want to avoid raising a generation of teenagers more familiar with TV personalities and online communities than the world around them, then secondary schools must take an active role in developing students’ interest in the natural environment. For children living in urban areas, or who come from poorer backgrounds, organised outdoor learning at school may be their only experience of the natural world, yet a studyundertaken at Plymouth University revealed a significant drop in the amount of time spent outside as a child moves from primary to secondary education. 

When included in the curriculum, outdoor learning can help to build cross-cultural understanding, reduce anti-social behaviour and teach young people about risk assessment and management.

The Learning Escape specialise in creating eco-friendly learning spaces with large windows, sun pipes and solar water systems to immerse children in nature and help them to not only understand their own environmental impact, but become ambassadors for change.