Search IconSearch

Encouraging Your Digital-Age Kids to Love the Outdoors

How to help them trade screen time for green time

Encouraging Your Digital-Age Kids to Love the Outdoors

It’s not unusual to see a 3-year-old expertly operate an iPad or smartphone. Many kids seem more comfortable indoors in front of a screen rather than outside at a park or playground.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

How can you foster a love of the outdoors in kids despite the lure of technology?

Here, pediatrician Gregory Weaver, MD, MPH, explains how to encourage kids of all ages to take breaks from their electronics and play outside — without nagging or forcing things:

The toddler years: Encouraging little explorers

Two- to 3-year-olds are fearless explorers and probably the easiest group to get outside. They yearn to touch, smell (and eat) their environment.

By ages 3 and 4, kids are “little scientists,” running experiments to help understand the world around them, Dr. Weaver says.

“When parents ask me what the best toy is for their 2-year-old, I say, ‘You.’ If you interact with your child and show a personal interest in the natural world, your child will reflect your interest,” he says.

It’s best not to present going outside as a chore or as a way to get exercise. Let kids see it as an exciting opportunity to discover new sights, smells and sounds in a beautiful, exciting place.

“When we take walks with our young daughters, my wife and I point out new birds or animals, or talk about the colors of the flowers we see along the way,” says Dr. Weaver.

The early school years: Finding fun activities

As kids move into the early school years, they’re likely less curious about getting outdoors just for the sake of exploring the world.

Here, the best tactic is to find things they like to do outside, and work from there. For instance, most kids love swimming, so that’s almost always a hit. Sports often serve as a good catalyst for breaking away from screens, too.

Look for exercise that both you and your kids enjoy. (If it feels like a chore, you’ll all find ways to avoid it.)

“Find things kids are excited about. Then build a natural experience around them, so it doesn’t feel as if they’re being forced to eat their vegetables,” says Dr. Weaver.

If kids are slightly older and really object to playing outside — or if you live in an area with little green space — look for a zoo, aquarium, botanical garden or other kind of natural space to visit.

Even many art museums — which often have free admission days — have outdoor areas or atriums for children to explore, he says.

The teen years: Schedule outdoor time with options

Electronic devices and video games are engineered to capture — and hold — your attention. And no one is more susceptible than teenagers.

So during the teen years, you may have to mandate outdoor time.

Dr. Weaver recommends creating a structure but allowing your teens to make choices within it.


For example, give them a plan for the week, but let them choose their “no screens allowed” times or days. Then offer a few outdoor options for those times.

“Sometimes you have to say, ‘enough is enough,’ and deal with the griping. But the alternative must be fun,” he says. “And you have to allow kids to act independently within the structure you set up.”

Even when kids are skeptical at first, they’ll likely come around if they have a hand in planning their outdoor time.

An important note about teens: Be sure you’re living by the same rules you give them. If you ask them to put their screens away, then turn yours off, too. “It’s not fair to expect something out of a teen that you aren’t willing to do yourself,” says Dr. Weaver.

The bottom line? Your whole family will benefit from less screen time and more green time.


Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Child talking with caregiver on couch
July 12, 2024/Mental Health
Talking To Your Child About School Shooting Drills

‘Active shooter’ exercises may raise both awareness and anxiety

Child crying and screaming, with caregiver handing over a lollipop, with another caregiver with hands on head, stressed
June 27, 2024/Children's Health
How To Deal With Toddler Tantrums: Tips From an Expert

Stay calm, don’t give in and try to refocus their attention

Parent with teen live action role playing in community park, with people walking dogs in background
June 26, 2024/Children's Health
Building Resiliency: 6 Ways To Boost Your Teen’s Confidence and Coping Skills

Integrating coping skills into your teen’s daily routine helps turn self-care into a lifelong healthy habit

Caregiver kneeled down, talking with child in front of school
June 25, 2024/Children's Health
Have an Aggressive Toddler? Here’s How To Manage Their Behavior

Tantrums and meltdowns are normal, but you can help your child manage their bigger emotions

Adult in the passenger seat of car while smiling teen drives
June 19, 2024/Children's Health
Teen Not Talking? Here’s How To Break the Silence

Talking in the car, resisting the urge to judge and asking specific questions can help rebuild rapport

Baby getting nasal irrigation
June 17, 2024/Children's Health
Neti Pot for Babies: Is Nasal Irrigation Safe?

Yes, it’s safe for babies starting at about 9 months old and can help clear nasal mucus

Rainbow-colored heart hovering above healthcare provider's hand, with child sitting in exam chair
June 12, 2024/Parenting
How To Find an LGBTQIA-Friendly Pediatrician for Your Child

Local LGBT centers, online directories, visual cues and gender-affirming care or non-discrimination policies can all be helpful resources and cues

Smiling parent holding smiling baby in a pool
June 7, 2024/Children's Health
When Can Babies Go in the Pool?

Wait until they’re at least 6 months old before your little one takes their first dunk

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims