PEAKS ISLAND — With waves crashing on beautiful shores waiting for toes to dip into them, rocks with the perfect footholds for climbing and trees with branches just low enough to scale, it is astounding how few Maine youth are doing so.

Growing up on Peaks Island has provided me with many fantastic places to explore and play. In elementary school I could be found most days walking through the woods with friends, dogs and snacks, not to mention dragons and monsters to be chased (and run from) with our wooden swords. It was these stories and games played in the woods that began my love for the outdoors. By just spending time imagining and playing in the woods, I grew an appreciation for nature. This value of our woods and beaches, however, is more and more being lost by my peers to the online world.

THE SAND BETWEEN OUR TOES

When kids play and learn outside, our social abilities improve and grow. And we Mainers get to fully know the place we come from. When thinking back to our childhood as adults, we will be reminded of the smells of salt on the water, how the sunlight looked when it filtered through the trees in the summertime. We will remember the sand between our toes and the icy cold water. We will have unchangeable bonds with the other kids from our streets, schools and communities.

All of these memories would never be possible without the time spent outside with friends and family rather than time spent on devices. Teens on average spend about a third of the day online or on social media.

This is not to say that the use of devices is not extremely helpful in certain cases. With smartphones, many are able to stay in touch with loved ones who may not live close to home. I myself find phones a great way to be able to stay in touch with camp friends, family from other states or simply friends about homework. Still, Maine teens need to be spending more time outside exploring the world around them rather than seeing it through a screen.

In a 2012 New York Times column, journalist Timothy Egan noted that a third of all American adults are not only overweight but actually obese. The unhealthy habits that cause this epidemic in America are starting at earlier and earlier ages, partially because of the lack of time spent outside. Over the last 10 years, boys and girls age 6 to 12 have experienced a sharp decline in the amount of time spent in the outdoors. These two staggering facts correlate in showing that when children do not spend time outside, they are much more likely to become obese.

‘NATURE DEFICIT’

Egan also spoke about writer Richard Louv’s discovery of the “nature deficit” in teens and young adults. This is becoming more and more common because of the lack of time spent outside, which is found to be highly correlated with the use of and time spent on technology. Being outside in Maine is not just beautiful, but it’s also much needed.

Being outside has been proven to decrease the stress that most of us teens have from school and social life. Starting young and creating a solid outdoor exercise habit will improve our overall stress levels along with our physical abilities and mental health. This can all start with kids playing, imagining and exploring their backyards.

Albert Einstein once said, “Play is the highest form of research.” We in Maine are some of the luckiest in the world in terms of the place that we live. Along the coast we watch as the powerful waves strike the shore. Further inland we begin to enter the wooded forests, lakes and open valleys. We have some of the best skiing in the East, one of the top 10 most visited national parks. Children now and forever should take advantage of one of the world’s greatest natural playgrounds and explore Maine.