Is There Anybody Out There?

Photo: ©Leah-Anne Thompson/


Visits to national parks have decreased by over 20% since 1988—it’s the first persistent downward trend in U.S. park history. Most of the decline (98%) can be explained by four variables: time spent watching movies (at home and in theaters), surfing the Internet, playing video games, and oil prices. Correlation doesn’t equal causation, but these trends may be early signs of a shift away from outdoor recreation and an appreciation of nature. That raises the question, who will be the next generation of conservation constituents?


Pergams, O.R.W. and P.A. Zaradic. 2006. Is love of nature in the U.S. becoming love of electronic media? 16-year downtrend in national park visits explained by watching movies, playing video games, internet use, and oil prices. Journal of Environmental Management 80:387-393


In another study, researchers looked at the role of the booming electronic media market for children. The impacts are sobering. Children aged zero to six spend on average two hours a day using some kind of screen medium. Even children under age two are using screen media—68% on a typical day.


Rideout, V.J., E.A. Vandewater and E.A. Wartella. 2003. Zero to six: Electronic media in the lives of infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation Publication #3378.
Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Washington, D.C.



  • Cassie Cox December 16, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    As an outdoor educator at a Texas State Park I’ve seen so many depressing things amongst children as well as adults when they visit the park. I have been asked by young children on more than one occasion “when will you let the animals out of their cages?” I hate the idea of having to explain that animals live everywhere and the majority never see the inside of a cage, but apparently that’s an odd concept for the kiddos. Perhaps that’s something we can compare this generation of children to: animals in cages. They stay locked up in their homes and rely on TV as entertainment. The parents feel they are easier to keep an eye on if they are inside and less likely to get sick or hurt like they would if they were outside. Some of the best times I’ve had with my younger cousins were when we were out searching for squirrels in the neighborhood and picking up leaves. You don’t necessarily have to have a large wilderness area nearby to enjoy the out of doors. Fascinations with nature start small and simple like looking for squirrels in your neighborhood and expand to adventures such as searching for yellow-bellied marmots in Rocky Mountain National Park.


  • Direct Response January 10, 2012 at 11:16 am

    I think this is soon going to be a problem with our culture. When they don’t go to the parks they tend to not respect the environment as much and littering is increased. I think a direct response campaign is needed.


Leave a Comment