This article is sponsored by the generous support of The Genius of Play. While I was compensated for my writing time, I am so grateful to be given this chance to share my thoughts about the importance of play in the teen years.
If you are a long time reader of mine, you have probably read on this blog many times about the importance of play in the early years of homeschooling. In fact, many of you have emailed me to ask for advice about homeschool curriculum for your preschool and early elementary children. And when you have, I have likely responded back to you with the bold statement, “Let them play!” My reason for encouraging you to allow your young children to play more than “school” is because there are many more benefits to child play than academics at a young age.
It’s not a hard sell when I tell you to allow your young children to play more. Most of you breathe a sigh of relief and go to the park. But what if I gave you similar advice for your teens? How would you react to that?
Don’t tell your teens I said this, but the differences between parenting young children and parenting teens are remarkably small. Both age groups are pushing the boundaries of dependence and individuality, both are learning to control impulsive behaviors and aggression, and both are in need of parental guidance and often find themselves in a battle of wills with parents who continue to train and teach them through these challenging years.
And both need to PLAY.
Yes, play looks a little different for your teens. And the benefits are a little different, too (probably not as different as you may be thinking), but the benefit of play in the teen years (and beyond) is an important topic to discuss, especially in light of the marked decrease in play time in the public school system over the past few years. For some parents, this has created a mindset that also diminishes the importance of play. Thankfully, homeschooling can allow you to redeem this social failure as your teen continues to enjoy the immense benefits of play.
Additionally, play in the teen years provides opportunities for your children to take risks, practice decision-making and problem-solving skills, make mistakes (and learn from them), experience and accept defeat, build confidence, overcome fear, and mature in all manners of thinking and behaving.
Here are a few ways your teens can engage with play today:
Allow time for delight-directed Learning
It’s easy to get mired down with the educational “requirements” your teen is expected to achieve, especially those who are college-bound. But allowing your child some freedom to learn about topics of interest will be beneficial not only in the present, but perhaps also in the future. Does your student have an idea of what career is in his future? There’s no time like the present to begin learning about the career through studying it or shadowing someone already doing it. Now is a great time to talk to adults about apprenticeships, internships, and other learning opportunities. Even if the interest is not career-focused, allowing your teen to explore it encourages him to take ownership in his own learning, which will greatly benefit him down the road.
Bring out the Legos
Teens enjoy designing and building things. For some it may actually be Lego-inspired play that continues well into the teen years. At this stage, they are often taking lessons learned in science and transferring that knowledge over. For some teens, designing and creating jewelry, fashion design, helping dad build a deck out back, or maybe even a website design may be part of this process. Make sure your teens have plenty of “materials” with which to design and build.
Allow time for spontaneous sports, games, and music
Sports teams and orchestras are great, and I certainly wouldn’t discourage them for many teens, but spontaneous games of flag football, a rousing day of airsoft, jamming with some friends in the basement, and yes, even video gaming, all allow for practice in teamwork, problem solving, and creative expression while minimizing the competition that is so prevalent with kids today. Not all kids are good competitors, and play doesn’t have to be about competing. It can just be about fun. The lessons learned will still benefit your teen, even without the focus on competition. Maybe even more so as taking the pressure to win off the table may be encouraging to a teen who lacks confidence in his ability.
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, and 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. When your teens were little kids, they used play to pretend to be grown-ups and prepare for life. As teens, parents can allow real-world experiences and opportunites for problem-solving and learning from experts. It’s a priceless gift to be given these opportunities as teens. Please don’t withhold such blessings from your kids.
To learn more about the incredible benefits of play in children of all ages, visit The Genius of Play.