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12-29 Teens are less aggressive around greenery

Teens are less aggressive around greenery

The benefits of exposure to natural environmental settings are widely known. Natural settings promote health in so many other ways by promoting disease prevention, stress reduction, and improved mental health. Yet teens are spending less time outdoors than ever before.

A recent survey revealed that 89 percent of teens felt disconnected from nature. In addition to the survey, participants also wrote essays, which were analyzed for common themes. Almost all of the teens agreed that they spend too much time on phones and computers. At the same time, the essays were full of powerful experiences and fond memories of their time spent in nature while growing up.

A little bit of green goes a long way

Teens who live in urban areas often can’t even spend time in nature if they want to because it isn’t available. Urban teens are also at particular risk for engaging in aggressive, violent and disruptive behaviors. But a recent study may offer an important and surprising solution. It seems urban teens who live in areas with green space, such as parks, golf courses and green fields, showed less aggression than those who do not.

Researchers at the University of Southern California followed 1,287 nine to 18 year-olds and compared measures of their aggressive behavior with how much green space they had around their homes every two to three years. Aggression was assessed by asking parents whether their child physically attacked or threatened others, destroyed things, or demonstrated other aggressive behaviors. Green space was measured using satellite data according to their addresses.

The youth who lived within 1,000 meters of green space had significantly less aggressive behavior than those who did not. The authors equated living near green space to about two to two-and-a-half years of maturity.

Interestingly, the following factors did not affect aggressive behavior:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Parents level of education
  • Parents occupation
  • Parents marital status
  • Whether the mother smoked while pregnant
  • Maternal depression

The authors recommended city planners increase the amount of green space in urban spaces because, according to their calculations, doing so could result in a 12 percent decrease in clinical cases of aggressive behavior in adolescents.

Increasing time with nature to improve behavioral health

Whether it is too much screen time, safety concerns, or lack of access to green space, the effect of “nature deficit disorder” on teens is concerning. The phrase “nature deficit disorder” was coined by award-winning author Richard Louv in his 2005 bestselling book Last Child in the Woods. The book describes the wide range of behavioral disorders caused by too little time spent outdoors. Mr. Louv also suggests ways to create change in communities, schools and families.

Research continues to prove the importance of nature for the health and well-being of people of all ages, especially the young. Minimizing screen time and increasing outdoor activities are strongly recommended. Even in urban settings, there are ways to increase the amount of exposure youth have with nature, such as indoor gardening and having contact with animals. Making time for nature outings together would likely have unexpected benefits for the whole family.

Sovereign Health of Rancho San Diego is a leader in the treatment of adolescent mental illness, substance use, and dual diagnosis. Our programs integrate state-of-the-art neurocognitive treatments with alternative approaches like experiential therapies, including outdoor activities. Teens develop healthy lifestyle habits during their treatment that are crucial for lasting recovery. We also provide our teens with recovery management and online access to educational resources, health and other opportunities. To find out more about specialized programs at Sovereign Health, please contact our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Dana Connolly, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer for Sovereign Health, where she translates current research into practical information. She earned her Ph.D. in research and theory development from New York University and has decades of experience in clinical care, medical research and health education. Sovereign Health is a health information resource and Dr. Connolly helps to ensure excellence in our model.  For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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