Play - Beneficial at Every Age
If you’ve been reading child development literature you know that play is essential for optimal human growth. Sometimes we forget, however, that teenagers also want and need to play. In fact, play is beneficial at every age, and adults have a lot to gain from it whether they are parents or not.
Playful behaviour is innate to being human so it can help us connect with almost anyone. Most of us are naturally drawn to act playfully with babies of all kinds; it truly is a universal language. Play helps us to know others, develop trust, and form bonds. It also solidifies our physical abilities.
Additionally, play can allow us to connect with animals and nature. Play is an instinct; it’s part of our hardware. Humans are born dependant on our mothers and have historically grown up in groups where we needed to figure out many things throughout childhood and learn to get along together. Play is critical to learning and practicing the diversity of skills we need for our lives and relationships.
Serious and Fun
You know that feeling when you are so engaged with something that you lose your sense of self and become fully immersed in an activity? That’s what true play feels like. We often associate the idea of ‘fun’ with play, yet that word carries a meaning of lightness and ease that doesn’t allow for the full, serious scope of play. If you’ve seen 7-year olds engrossed in a make-believe world you’ll know what I mean. There might not be much laughter or even smiles, but we can tell they are playing.
Play can, of course, be highly amusing too, and defined by giggles and rowdy behaviour. Playing feels good! It’s stimulating and relaxing at the same time, and leaves us refreshed and happy.
Playing With Teens
If you play regularly with your teenager you can gain a better connection with them, as well as a better connection with important parts of yourself related to pleasure and mental agility. When parents feel connected to their kids they are more open and calm. This is also true for young people, so teens that feel connected with their parents will be more open and calm too. What a win!
Playing with your teenager means entering their world and engaging with their interests. This could be things like listening to or making music together, playing video games, sports, or dancing, but it can also be less conventional things like goofing around with face filters on social media or burping the alphabet. Remember that nobody is too old for roughhousing or cuddling, but keep in mind that growing teenagers don’t always know their own strength.
Play is NOT about competition. Playing full-out can be serious business where we challenge ourselves and enjoy doing it. But if we cross the line and someone becomes tense and self-conscious (including adults) we are in a different realm. If feelings or bodies get hurt, stop the activity and attend to the need that is presenting itself so that connection can be repaired.
There are dozens of board games and other activities with prescribed rules and outcomes that delight us year after year. Those can be great, especially with larger groups and folks of other generations. Yet there is a special kind of magic that happens when people play together and unique games get made up on the spot. A friend of mine told me about a rambunctious game played with furniture cushions that a cousin dubbed Wackersitters. When my son was a young teen we often played a game that he created over time that we ended up calling Modified Apartment Football.
Opportunities for Play Are All Around Us
Perhaps you’re talking with your teenager as you drive somewhere and the conversation shifts to joking around. Let yourself be silly! Young people really enjoy some good verbal banter and it’s a chance to see how clever your teen really is. Playful ridicule can also ease the strain of parent-teen relationships, so kids like giving adults a hard time about our dad jokes or our hairstyles. If you are a secure and mature person (I hope you are!) you will let them.