by Diana Graber of Cyberwise.org and Michele Whiteaker of NaturePlayTrips.com
Originally published in the Children & Nature Network New Nature Movement Blog
Inevitably, children are bringing their devices to public parks and nature spaces without knowing basic etiquette and what it means to be a “good digital citizen outdoors.” Unfortunately, even adults are not modeling the ways visits to nature can serve as a balance to increasing time spent in front of screens.
We think there should be boundaries. With this in mind, here are eight boundaries or guidelines to help young people (and their parents!) find that healthy balance between tech and nature. We call it:
8 Rules for Being a Good Digital Citizen Outdoors
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Research before, share after. The time to use technology to enhance your nature experience is before you go and after you get back. Michele calls this strategy “bookending.” Of course it’s okay to make some time and space to snap a few photos while you’re out, but otherwise turn that selfie stick into a walking stick, put your smartphone in your pocket and be present in your nature experience.
Turn off the sound and look around. Part of the nature experience is silence and wild sounds. No one wants to hear the click, click, click of texting or taking photos. If you’d rather hear music on the trail, wear headphones. Nature is a sacred place to those who are enjoying it and the wildlife that calls it home. Do your best not to interrupt their experience.
Don’t trample the woods to share your goods. Getting that one-of-a-kind shot to share with your “friends” doesn’t mean you have permission to trample or deface natural resources to get it. Recent events of graffiti at national parks shared on Instagram or ex-Scout Leaders knocking over ancient rock formations to shoot a video show the extent people will go to “share” their experience with others.
Tech is not terrible, but how you use it may be. Technology is often vilified and placed into opposition with nature experiences, but it can be a handy tool. Use it for identification, research, or how you would use a book (remember those?) to enhance your outdoor experience. But remember, you don’t have to know the name of something to enjoy it.
Don’t be driven to distraction. Ask yourself: Is your tech helping you see things or is it making you miss the moment? If your goal is time in nature to balance your tech, give nature 100% of your attention. There are tales of a whole class missing the breaching of whales during a coastal hike or others who missed a deer smack in front of them because they were distracted by their devices.
Let “why” be your guide. Always ask yourself if what you are doing is worth the time or distraction. Do you NEED to do it? (Are you sharing with friends? Blogging to inspire others? Keeping a nature photo album? Telling a story? Looking up research? “Collecting” flora and fauna through photographs? Pursuing an art form with your photography? Do you need it for navigation?) If the answer is “no” – then save your tech time for later and enjoy the moment.
Nature is its own best teacher. The real value of nature comes when we can experience it for what it is. When you see something occur in nature that you’ve never seen before and may never seen again, that’s the wonder that makes it so beneficial and just a small dose of what Richard Louv calls “Vitamin N” can help us navigate struggles and makes us healthier, smarter, and happier.
An hour away is more than okay. Always, always, always leave time for enjoyment and the purity of the moment. Don’t let the constant beeping of text messages, tweets, and waiting Snapchats get in the way. They will be there later. As you get out more, you’ll get better at this. We promise.
Diana Graber is the Co-Founder of CyberWise (a.k.a., “No Grownup Left Behind”) an online hub that helps adults understand the digital world. She also created and teaches Cyber Civics, a middle school digital literacy program that is now being taught at several Waldorf schools in the western U.S. She is passionate about the outdoors and technology.
Michele Whiteaker is a writer and Certified Interpretive Guide who helps Southern California families discover local nature using her free FunOrangeCountyParks.com blog and co-publishes NaturePlayTrips.com for family-friendly travel in the western U.S. Whether it’s finding joy outdoors or using tech responsibly, she finds leading by example is her most effective and rewarding parenting strategy.