Countless adolescents struggle with problematic behaviors that ultimately have a negative impact on every facet of their lives. Whether these problematic behaviors are the result of mental illness, cognitive delays, having suffered a traumatic experience, abusing substances, or residing in an environment where crime and violence are prevalent, the effects of acting out can cause monumental strife to arise in an adolescent’s life.
Academic progress can be hindered, peer relationships can be destroyed, social isolation can become prominent, and interaction with law enforcement and the legal system can become a terrifying reality. The reasons behind the onset of problematic behaviors, including aggression, can be misunderstood by those around the adolescents who are engaging in such.
The fact that spending time in the outdoors can elicit increased wellbeing is not a new concept. Many people benefit from the transcendent power of nature for a multitude of reasons. What may be a somewhat new idea, however, is that spending time in the outdoors can help adolescents heal from psychological, emotional, and behavioral concerns, and reduce their impulses to act out aggressively.
A study conducted by researchers from the University of Southern California concluded that young people who spend their childhood growing up with easy access and within close proximity to natural settings are less likely to engage in aggressive behaviors. Between 2000 and 2012, these researchers followed nearly 1,300 adolescents of both genders and from various backgrounds who were exposed to green space within approximately 1,000 meters of their homes.
The parents of the children who participated in the study were asked to consistently fill out behavior checklists throughout the 12 year duration of the study so that researchers could identify increases or reductions in problematic behaviors. Factors such as gender, age, socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity proved to not have an impact on the way that being surrounded by nature impacted the behaviors of these adolescents.
So how does nature play a role in reducing or eliminating negative behaviors and eliciting overall physical and mental wellness in young people?
There are many theories as to why spending time in nature is so healing to human beings. For one thing, having access to natural surroundings encourages youth to spend time outside, increasing their engagement in physical activities. Exercise and other forms of physical activity have long been known to keep individuals healthy, both in regards to their physical health and their mental health.
When adolescents do not have access to natural surroundings in which they can spend time, their ability to engage in physical activities can be limited, hindering the positive effects that such activity can have on their overall wellbeing.
Additionally, trees and vegetation offer a natural buffer to the presence of ambient noise. When individuals reside in urban areas, for example, where they are not surrounded by nature, they may be consistently exposed to various background noises that they do not even realize are having a negative impact on their mental health. Examples of these kinds of sounds can include motor vehicle traffic, police, ambulance, and fire engine sirens, train horns, and airplanes flying overhead. While the impact of chronic exposure to these sounds is usually in the subconscious, it can result in undue stress and anxiety. Furthermore, there can be physical ramifications that result from the pollution that is expelled by these types of surroundings.
By residing within an area where one is not exposed to these types of daily circumstances, and is instead surrounded by nature, individuals can experience an overall sense of peace, which works towards encouraging positive mental and physical wellness.
The power of nature does not only help prevent adolescents from engaging in aggressive and other problematic behaviors, but it can also serve to heal young people who are suffering from various mental and emotional concerns that have led to their engagement in negative behaviors. Things such as addiction to drugs or alcohol, suffering from mental illness, having been exposed to traumatic experiences, being born with pervasive cognitive delays, or being the victim of bullying, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and/or emotional abuse can lead adolescents to behave in negative ways that have a devastating impact on their lives.
Adolescents who are in these types of situations must receive professional treatment in order to help guide them down the road to recovery and prevent further detriments from arising.
Wilderness therapy is a unique option for treatment that takes advantage of the healing power of nature. Select treatment centers throughout the United States offer this form of therapy to children and adolescents who are suffering from the aforementioned concerns. When young people engage in this type of treatment, they are exposed to an array of therapeutic interventions that are not typically available at traditional mental and behavioral health treatment centers.
Outdoor activities are the foundation of these wilderness programs, with daily activities being offered that can include ropes courses, camping, kayaking, canoeing, nature hikes, swimming, campfire meetings, and learning wilderness survival techniques. In addition to these nontraditional therapeutic interventions, wilderness therapy also incorporates evidence-based treatment interventions that have long been proven to be successful in helping adolescents heal from the concerns that plague them. Examples of such can include individual therapy, group therapy, and family therapy.
Adolescents who are provided with the ability to engage in wilderness therapy can develop the coping skills and learn to make the behavioral changes necessary for achieving a renewed life; a life of true and lasting wellness.
At SUWS of the Carolinas, we are steadfast in our belief that wilderness therapy can make a world of difference in the lives of adolescents. Our dynamic programming options offer adolescents who are struggling with mental health concerns, behavioral issues, and substance abuse problems the ability to engage in a number of therapeutic interventions that are centered on the healing power of the wilderness.
Located in beautiful Old Fort, North Carolina, the serenity of nature can bring about true recovery for the young people who engage in our programming. Contact us now for more information about how you can change the life of an adolescent in your care.