Play is a crucial part of a child’s development, and most parents are aware of the importance of play for younger children. However, as kids grow into teens, their play behaviors may change, and it can be challenging for parents to understand what play looks like for this age group. Unlike younger kids, teens often engage in play in different ways.
Play Changes in Adolescence
Play is a beneficial activity for people of all ages, including teenagers. Researchers have found that play for teens can be both similar to and different from play for younger kids. In general, play for teenagers is characterized by the presence of choice and self-direction, as well as a creative or imaginative element. It is important for teenagers to have opportunities for play as it can enhance their overall well-being and development.
During adolescence, the teenage brain undergoes rapid growth and development, and this can be a time of intense self-inquiry as young people explore questions about their identity and place in the world. This process of self-discovery can be aided by play, which can be a vital tool for supporting brain development and helping teens navigate the complexities of adolescence. Play can provide a safe and supportive space for teenagers to explore their interests, thoughts, and feelings.
Teens Benefit From Playing
Even as they grow older, teenagers often still have a desire for dress-up and pretend play. This may take different forms, such as wearing costumes, participating in recreational sports, adventures, and fitness activities, or playing video games or role-playing games that involve imaginative scenarios. While it is important for teens to have adult-organized activities and structured downtime, it is also essential for them to have space to explore their interests and pursue hobbies and passions.
Play can have numerous benefits for the mental health of teenagers. A study from 2011 found a correlation between the decline of play and an increase in mental health issues among adolescents. As play declined, instances of feelings of helplessness and narcissism also rose.
Parents Should Encourage Teens to Play
As adolescents navigate the challenges of transitioning into adulthood, they may feel the need to both embrace and resist their growing maturity. In this complex and often stressful process, adults can support teens by modeling vulnerability and embracing playfulness. This can involve engaging in activities that allow for mutual play and vulnerability. By showing teens that it is okay to be vulnerable and have fun, adults help create a safe and supportive environment for adolescents to explore and express their own feelings and emotions.
To encourage playfulness and vulnerability in teens, parents can provide access to a variety of materials and resources that can be used for play. Additionally, it can be helpful to set aside dedicated time and space for play, giving teens the freedom to explore and engage in activities that are meaningful and enjoyable to them.