When you think of play, you likely think of children. However, research shows that play is essential for adults and teens as well, and even Google has put that research into good use. In fact, experts recognize that play is an essential part of development, but it’s also critical throughout the lifespan. Although it’s clear that play is essential for the cognitive, physical, and emotional health of a young one, more and more research suggests that play is necessary to psychological and emotional well being, regardless of age. This article will discuss what teens gain from playful activities with friends, family, and specifically parents. It will also review how play can facilitate healthy growth during adolescence, as well as how the parent-teen relationship can be strengthened by playful activities.
The Benefits of Playful Activities
There are a number of benefits that teens gain when they have the chance to enjoy themselves through playful activities. Those benefits increase when parents join their teen. Below is a short list of the benefits that come when a teen is allowed to engage in playful activities. Keep in mind that play here can include any form of playful activity that is age-appropriate. For instance, teens might enjoy a competitive board game, a playful game of charades or Pictionary, writing poetry or any other form of creativity, even a round of Karaoke. Whatever feels fun and kicks a teen’s right (creative) brain into gear can be considered play.
- contributes to healthy brain development
- allows teens to use their creativity
- helps to develop imagination
- contributes to improved dexterity
- aides in developing physical, cognitive, and emotional strength
- provides an opportunity for teens to begin to interact with the world in a new way
- gives teens the chance to face fears and role play
- contributes to mastering the world around them
- helps build confidence
- adds to resiliency
- teaches teens new ways of resolving conflict
- allows teens to practice decision-making skills
- gives teens the opportunity to discover their world
- allows teens to express their passions and interests
- gives teens the opportunity to express uncomfortable emotions not easily expressed through words
- can strengthen the parent-teen relationship
Furthermore, when parents join their child in play without directing the experience, parents have the opportunity to see the world through their teen’s eyes. Research shows that parents who glimpse into their teen’s world learn to communicate more effectively with their adolescent.
Playful Activities Are Disappearing in Schools
As parents, it’s important not to be influenced by the mainstream perspective on play. For the most part, play is being dismissed in exchange for activities based in logic and reason. In general, academics is becoming more of a focus in public and private schools around the country. Recess times went down recently as schools focused on preparing their children for academic success. One survey done in 1989 found that 96% of schools had one less recess period. Later, in 2009, another survey found that only 70% of kindergarten classes even had a recess period. Some schools reduced their recess, creative arts, and physical education time to meet the No Child Left Behind Act requirements of 2001. Some parents are following the trend of schools by encouraging their teens to skip play time and focus on their homework instead.
Despite this trend, mental health experts are clear that the more play a teen has in their life, the more resilient, confident, and intelligent they are. This remains true throughout the lifespan.
Play can Facilitate Adolescence
Take a look again at the benefits of play listed above and you’ll see that many of them can support adolescence. For instance, play contributes to imagination, curiosity, and discovery, just to name a few. In fact, during adolescence, curiosity, discovery, and imagination are precisely what’s necessary at this life stage.
One of the most important developmental tasks of a teen is to discover a sense of self. Because teens are transitioning between childhood and adulthood, they are often pulling away from parents and spending more time with friends. They are trying out new things and modeling the behaviors of friends they like. They are doing all this to piece together for themselves a solid sense of self.
If you have never joined your teen in playful activities, you might want to start now. When you discover play and how wonderful it can be, you might also discover that play can inspire the following in your teen (and you!):
Curiosity – The teen brain is bursting with growth, and the burst of power and energy in the adolescent brain is also a search for what is new – a teen is highly curious. The teen wants to try new things, explore the world, and role-play. Although this also comes with impulsivity, a parent with a deeper understanding of a teen’s brain growth might allow for more investigation of the world while curbing a teen’s impulsivity.
Discovery – Discovery is one of the most powerful tools for growth and development. Discovery means finding out about yourself. It means learning from your own experiences and adapting so that your life works for you. It means being curious, open, and finding ways to move forward. Discovery is what most children and teens do naturally. They explore, find out more, and have fun in trying new things.
Imagination – A significant part of finding oneself is trying on new roles. In fact, many teens often role play without even knowing it. They might try on a new hairstyle, a new way of dressing, or a new mannerism. Teens tend to experiment with feelings, thoughts, and moods. And once they’ve gathered information, they can use their imagination and pretend to have that new belief or behavior down. For example, let’s say a teen admires how one of their teachers is very composed, elegant, and mature in the way he carries himself. And so they try it on for themselves. They wear the feeling to see how it works and doesn’t work for them. What’s great about being a teen is that you can make it all up. You can experiment and try out various attitudes, beliefs, ideas, feelings, and moods.
Playful Activities can Strengthen the Relationship with Your Teen
If the relationship with your teen needs some improving or strengthening, having fun is a great way to do it. In fact, joining your teen in playful activities can:
Heal emotional wounds – When you play with your teen, you help shape their brain. When an emotionally insecure teen plays with a secure adult, the adult helps to reshape negative beliefs into positive thoughts, excitement, and even positive choices.
Build a strong sense of self – When a parent and teen play together, there are many moments in which a parent can authentically see their teen. And when a child feels seen it can help build and strengthen a sense of self.
Develop intimacy – Emotional intimacy is rare in families who tend to focus on academics, chores, and routine. However, play creates many moments of emotional intimacy and can help strengthen the relationship between parent and teen.
Playful Activities You and Your Teen Can Enjoy Together
The emotionality, curiosity, and creativity of teens can be challenging and create problems for some parents. However, it can also ignite a teen to explore, take positive risks, and role play to uncover who they are. The passionate heart and mind of a teen can be used to discover a sense of self, and throughout life, it can foster the strengthening of this self. For this reason, it’s important that parents ensure play time with their teen. Here are a few ideas of playful activities for parents and their adolescents to do together:
- host a game night with your teen’s friends
- turn off technology and enjoy the afternoon at the park
- let your teen take the lead in a playful game together
- play with your pet or your neighbor’s pet
- enjoy time at the beach
- be creative together
- give your teen a day off from household chores
- take a cooking class or a dance class together
- join your teen on the town one night
- play Charades or Pictionary together
- watch a comedy together and have a good laugh
- create a secret handshake together
- take a mini vacation together
- have one night of the week dedicated to fun and play
Remember that play is not something to leave for when you have some free time. According to the National Institute for Play, being playful with your child can foster healthy development, strengthen relationships, and shape the brain in healthy ways.