By Eryn Lynum
In a society increasingly dominated by technology, it’s challenging to encourage our kids to set their devices down and step outside into God’s created world. Yet just like in a healthy ecosystem in nature, we can restore balance in our kids’ lives and help them spend their childhood as God intends. It begins by identifying what doesn’t belong or is out of balance.
Identifying Invasive Pastimes
Have you ever looked at a natural area and wondered if its plants belong where they are? As a certified Master Naturalist, this is a question I often ask: Is the vegetation I see supposed to be here, or have invasive plants snuck in? Despite its beauty, I know that a meadow, forest, or field might be overrun with invasive plants that harm its ecosystem.
Perhaps you haven’t considered invasive plants much, but as a parent or grandparent, you have probably thought about invasive pastimes encroaching on today’s kids. Like a plant that is not natural to the landscape, invasive pastimes like technology and media can wreak havoc if left unchecked.
Raising four children, my husband and I have struggled with keeping technology balanced in our home. We have to regularly check in and ensure our family is living in light of God’s glory and eternity and not for worthless things. Ephesians 5:15-16 warns us, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time because the days are evil.” Left to default, we’re prone to spend our time on wasteful things. We don’t want to squander these childhood days, but instead, like Psalm 90:12 says, learn to “number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
Making “The Best Use of the Time” Outdoors
When we become aware of distractions vying for our kids’ attention and time, we can help them gravitate toward native pastimes—how God wants them to spend childhood—such as playing outside in creation. “Look carefully then how you walk” becomes all the more urgent as we consider the trajectory of modern childhood.
From birth to age eighteen, we have 936 weeks in which we get to raise our kids. For adoptive families, that time can be even shorter. Today’s average child spends 205 weeks (nearly 22% of their childhood) with a digital device. Compare that to the 4.55 weeks (0.48% of their childhood) that they spend outdoors.
Thinking about technology like an invasive plant, we can see three comparisons:
1. Technology is a recently introduced issue. Like invasive plants brought in during the past couple of centuries, technology is also a recently introduced issue. Media use has risen dramatically since the release of the first iPhone in 2007. Like ecologists scrambling to keep invasive plants under control, our generation of parents is the first to navigate this highly technological world that our kids are growing up in.
2. Media came with good intentions. Invasive plants were used to lend exotic beauty to our gardens. They only became a problem when seeds began spreading and taking over surrounding landscapes. Likewise, introducing technology into our daily lives came with good intentions and has beneficial applications. In 2010, the late Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, stood on stage for the release of the Apple iPad. He explained the many benefits of searching the internet, interacting with others, and watching videos. Two years after that event, he was asked how his kids enjoy the iPad, to which he responded, “Actually, we don’t allow the iPad in the home. We think it’s too dangerous for them in effect.” Jobs knew the benefits of the devices he created but recognized their threats to childhood.
3. Technology overruns the landscape of childhood. When an invasive plant is left to its own devices, it monopolizes the land. Because it does not have its natural predators from its homeland, it’s free to grow and spread. As it does, it crowds out native plants that belong there. Similarly, technology has the upper hand on our kids’ attention. Given the choice between playing outside or a video game, kids will almost always choose the latter. Without intentionality, technology overruns the landscape of childhood.
Restoring Balance to the Landscape of Childhood
I’ve witnessed the beauty of restoration in a natural area near where I live. This trail running between the river and ponds was long neglected. Its river’s banks were built unnaturally high during mining which caused the water to become stagnant. It could no longer flow between the river and ponds or support the aquatic creatures who called it home. Trash littered the area. Native plants and wildlife left the scene. When I visited, it was ten years after restoration efforts had begun. The banks were lowered to their original height, and water began flowing again. Trash was removed, and insects, birds, and animals began returning. It has taken a decade of dedicated work from volunteers, but the balance is being restored.
The same is true for childhood. It is not too late to remove invasive pastimes and restore our kids’ natural inclinations toward outdoor play. God works with us and blesses these efforts because this is what He wants for our kids. He created our children with a sense of wonder and curiosity to compel them so that they will discover Him in what He has made.
Giving Our Kids a Biblical Worldview through Nature
Spending time outside isn’t only about offering a healthy alternative to screen time. God created our kids to glimpse His likeness in nature. They perceive God’s character as they dig their fingers into the dirt, climb a tree, or listen to a bird’s song. Romans 1:20 attests to this: “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
Theologians refer to this as Natural Revelation, one of the two main ways God reveals Himself to us. While Special Revelation—God’s inspired, living, and active Word—is His primary way of showing Himself to us, He also gifted us with Natural Revelation, a secondary and complementary revelation of who He is. Jesus used this method in teaching. Throughout the gospels, we see Him utilizing all He and the Father fashioned together at creation. He used materials such as soil, seeds, sparrows, wildflowers, grass, grains of sand, and olive branches. Like Jesus, we can use the tangible materials in nature to point our children to the intangible qualities of God.
In my book Rooted In Wonder: Nurturing Your Family’s Faith Through God’s Creation, I share, “Spending time in creation, they will naturally ask questions that together you can seek out answers to. This is an organic way of building a worldview. Guided by God’s Word and Spirit, your children (and you!) will experience a new depth of faith that snuffs out false ideas.”
3 Ways to Restore Balance and Nurture Your Family’s Faith through God’s Creation
1. Use intentional words to reconnect the dots between creation and Creator
When you take your child outside, talk about “creation” rather than “nature.” Show them the sunset and discuss how God paints the sky like an artist. Point their attention to a river and talk about God as a great architect. You can read Psalm 104:5-9 and Isaiah 40:12-14 and show them how carefully God designed the planet’s systems. He carved the caverns, told the rivers where to flow, and set the boundaries for the seas. Assure them that in the same way, God sets life-giving boundaries in our lives, and we thrive when we live within those limits.
2. Encourage a love for outdoor play by involving friends
Although our kids are created with a sense of wonder, it can be challenging to reignite that curiosity. If there’s hesitancy to spend time outside, involve friends! Instead of saying, “We’re going to turn off the tablet and go outside,” you can reframe the idea and say, “Hey, we’re heading to the river to play with your friends!” Organize a walk with friends through a nearby natural area, a day at the beach or river, or attend a local nature class to fuel your child’s interest in playing outside.
3. Show your child absolute truth in the details of nature
Nature shows our children God’s beautiful designs; we don’t get to define or redefine what He has made. Play a game with your child by taking them to a natural area and letting them wander a safe distance. Ask them to pick out something they see, like a flower, tree, insect, or bird. Have them report back and describe that natural item through words, and you get to guess what they found. Encourage them to describe it as carefully as possible. What colors does it have? How big or small is it? What does it smell like? Is it swaying? Singing? Standing still? Once your children have given detailed descriptions, go with them to see what they have found. While affirming their accurate descriptions, share a few more descriptors they could have used. This will help them broaden their vocabulary for seeing and defining things. Next, it’s your turn! Go find something fun to describe to them, and let them take a turn guessing. Talk about what these natural items reflect about God or what He might have been thinking about when He created them.
In Isaiah 55:10-11 we read that God’s Word goes forth and does not return void. Likewise, nature declares who God is, and this revelation will not return empty. As you explore God’s Word and His created world alongside your child, He will bless your efforts and reveal Himself in wonder-filled ways.
Eryn Lynum is a certified master naturalist, Bible teacher, educator, national speaker, and author of Rooted in Wonder: Nurturing Your Family’s Faith Through God’s Creation and 936 Pennies: Discovering the Joy of Intentional Parenting. She is host of the podcast Nat Theo: Nature Lessons Rooted in the Bible. Eryn lives in Colorado with her husband, Grayson, and their four children, where they enjoy hiking, camping, and adventuring through the Rocky Mountains. Eryn leads nature classes and hikes and has been featured on Focus on the Family, FamilyLife Radio, Proverbs 31 Ministries, Christian Parenting, and MOPS International. Download her free Bible lessons and nature activity guides at ErynLynum.com.