Play is fundamentally important for learning skills such as problem solving, collaboration and creativity. (American Academy of Pediatrics).
– Desiree Panlilio
Why do teen’s need to play? As a parent you may ask yourself that question, but the better question is what is play for a teen and why is it important for our teens? I want to discuss both of those questions.
First, what does play mean for our teens? It is not playing in an organized sports league such as a travel soccer team or being a member of the debate team that meets after school. Luckily for us parents, teen play is not a play date that we organize and orchestrate. Play is the unstructured time where teens are together creating and defining who they are in the group they are in. It is the teens themselves organizing who will be in the group for that event. This helps teens to define who they are and what their boundaries are.
Second, play in the teen years provides opportunities for your teen to take risks, practice decision-making and problem-solving skills, make mistakes, build confidence, overcome fear, and grow in maturity. Giving your teens time to learn through play encourages creative thinking, addresses your teen’s desire for greater independence and ownership in their learning, fosters social relationships, increases physical activity, brings about increased physical activity and creative expression. It also allows your teen the opportunity to demonstrate competence and improve leadership skills. Teens also need this time to discover their talents and interests and cultivate their gifts. That is an incredible amount of growth occurring in the time our teens are playing.
What does play look like for our teens and how do parents encourage play? Fortunately for us teen play, is hanging in the basement watching netflix, creating silly TIk Toks and Instagram posts. It is also going to the beach, the mall, the skate park or even gaming from the comfort of their own home. All of these opportunities are play for our teens. Play allows for our teens to develop their own personality and to validate who they are and what they may want to change as a person.
As a parent, It is important to be available throughout your teens “play” time as a coach and mentor. It may be discussing how something went wrong and how to solve it, or to help a group of teens solve a problem by asking questions and having everyone listen to each other. As a parent who is asked to be involved in the play, see your role as the mentor to help develop the life skills your and all those teens are working to develop. It is by offering your time and the questions to help the teens solve their own problems that you will build trust and the relationship with your teen and their friends.
Teens are in the awkward stage of child and young adult trying to navigate the space and to gain the independence that they will need to be productive young adults in the world. Our role is to make sure that there play encourages the life skills that create, build and cultivate the tools they will need to create the success that they want.