Outdoor adventures and adolescents’ mental health


Outdoor adventures and adolescents’ mental health: Daily screen time as a moderator of changes

Summary

Outdoor adventures may compensate for some negative mental health conditions associated with exaggerated screen time in adolescents

This study investigated whether outdoor adventure programs may produce different effects for adolescents with high versus low levels of daily screen time (ST). The study also investigated the possibility of excessive media consumers profiting the most from outdoor adventure programs. Previous research provides evidence of excessive ST having detrimental effects on psycho-social health and outdoor adventure programs having positive effects on psycho-social health. Building on that research, this study aimed to determine if outdoor adventure programs may be effective in countering negative mental health impacts of ST.

Seventy-six adolescents (age 13-20) completed questionnaires before and after participating in a 10-day outdoor adventure program during which time they were without access to the internet and television and had no service for mobile phones. All of the camp activities – which included canoeing, rappelling, rock climbing and hiking – took place in natural surroundings and were designed to promote personal development and team building. The questionnaire included an assessment of perceived stress and subjective well-being. The questionnaire also collected information about the participants’ daily leisure screen time. Researchers used the questionnaire responses to categorize participants into two groups: high media consumers (more than three hours of ST per day) and low-to-moderate consumers (3 or fewer hours of ST per day).

glenhaven park campsite

Pre-post assessment results showed significant positive changes in the mental health scores of both groups of media consumers. Excessive media consumers, however, showed greater gains than low-to-moderate consumers. These results applied across the different types of mental health measures (i.e., stress perceptions and indicators of well-being). While the excessive media consumers showed greater gains in mental health and well-being, they also entered the program with lower levels of mental health indicators.

These findings provide a strong argument for a wider use of outdoor adventure programs for health promotion, especially for adolescents who tend to spend a great deal of time involved with media consumption.  Providing time away from their “normal” (mediatized) lifestyle may compensate for the negative health impacts of leisure ST. Another potential impact relates to the possibility of participants making changes in their mediatized and sedentary lifestyles at home. This study adds to the existing literature by being the first to address different effects of outdoor adventure programs according to daily levels of ST.

Citation

Mutz, M., Müller, J., Göring, A., (2019). Outdoor adventures and adolescents’ mental health: Daily screen time as a moderator of changes. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 19(1), 56-66.

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