Natural Connections: Exploring the Role of Engagement in Outdoor Activities and Technology Use on Children’s Moral Concern for Wild Animals and Ecosystems
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This exploratory study examined children’s moral concern about wild animals and nature and the association with children’s engagement in outdoor activities and their use of technology in outdoor spaces. Participants included 61 children (aged from 7 to 15 years) and their caregivers. Caregivers completed a demographic questionnaire, and children participated in semi-structured interviews. As hypothesized, this study’s findings showed a significant association between age and children’s justifications for not harming wild animals, with older children giving more complex biocentric justifications and younger children giving less complex, anthropocentric justifications. A significant association was also found between children’s reasons for not using technology outdoors and children’s reports of whether it is “okay” or “not okay” to harm ecosystems. Children who said that they did not use technology because it “decreased their engagement” were unanimous in their belief that it was “not okay” to harm wild animals. In contrast, children who said that they did not use technology because they were “not allowed” tended to endorse the position that “it depends” when they were asked if it was “okay” or “not okay” to harm ecosystems. Similarly, a significant association was found regarding children’s technology use and moral concern justifications for not harming wild animals. Children who reported using technology outdoors for “personal benefits” tended to mostly report less complex, anthropocentric justifications, whereas children who reported using technology to “capture memories” gave mostly more complex, biocentric justifications. Other significant associations and possible trends were noted among children’s moral concern and engagement in outdoor activities and technology use, and these are discussed. The implications of this study’s findings for the development of a curriculum related to humane or outdoor education are discussed.