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Why Your Pre-Teen or Teen still needs to “Play”

Updated: Mar 18

Yes, if you've followed our blogs for some time now, you'll find that we talk about"Play" as something that will follow us from childhood well into adulthood. That "Play" is the foundation for a child's education and overall development.

Research has shown us time and time that Play has significant benefits for everyone of all ages.

What you and I may agree on is that Play looks different at different ages. Your 3-year-old may like banging on toys, your six-year-old may love a trip to the playground and your 12-year-old may have found a favourite sports activity. What about your 14-year-old or 16-year-old? A sports activity or video game.

So how does "Play" help your 12,14 or 16-year-old? Well, let's take a look at how their brain is developing during the adolescent years...

Accordingly to brain development research, during our teenage years, the synapses in our prefrontal cortex also known as the decision-making part of the brain are still very much developing. But there is something called ‘synaptic pruning’ which happens during this time. It is where teenagers lose the synapses used less frequently and build up the synapses used regularly. So what does this have to do with my teenager"Playing" you might ask?

Play is a broad term that describes 3 main functions that serve specific functions.

Social play

Young people are playing with adults or their peers in this scenario. For instance, they might bounce a ball around, organize friendly tournaments among themselves, or perform made-up dramas or TV shows. Some teenagers start their own dance teams, bands, or musical projects.

Independent play

For instance, when teens play alone, they might write or tell stories, enjoy crossword puzzles, or build objects out of tools and materials. Teenagers frequently prefer to train a pet or play video games. While being heavily criticized as a pastime for teenagers, video gaming offers benefits and can be enjoyable when done in moderation.

Guided play

Teens play within an environment that has been created for them by adults. For example, at school productions, teenagers may be asked to choose a production or come up with ideas for a school play. Some other activities are establishing governments for make-believe nations and devising board games to review social studies curricula.

How does "Play" help my Pre-teen or Teen develop?

"Play" fosters creative thinking, problem-solving, independence, and perseverance in children, with teenagers it also addresses developmental needs that are needed for greater independence and ownership in own their learning, opportunities for physical activity and creative expression, and the ability to demonstrate competence.

In short, "Play" gives your child or teenager a "testing ground for critical life experience and enhancing their critical thinking skills" which they will continue to refine into adulthood.

Intellectual development

Your Teenager's creative thinking skills are developed through play. For example, when your teenager builds their own robot or designs their own video game, they measure, compute, develop, and test their own theories and formulas.

Through dramatic play, teenagers develop their language skills, expand their vocabulary, and improve their writing skills. It has been demonstrated that engineering play, in particular, improves mathematical and problem-solving abilities. Teenagers also learn what fascinates them and where their competencies or innate abilities reside through play. In short, your Teen's ability to make decisions is improved by play.

Social development

Playing with others allows your Teen to become more flexible and adaptable in various social contexts. Young people learn to listen to one another and consider other people's perspectives via "play", two essential skills for developing empathy. Teenagers must be able to communicate their thoughts and emotions in social play. Teenagers can develop their original problem-solving skills in these kinds of social settings. Your Teen will experience this when interacting with peers or during family events.

Emotional development

Emotional development is likely the most important component of "Play" for growth, as it creates a favorable environment for teenagers to mature. Like young children, Teenagers also develop their ability self-regulation, through play, where they practice focus and following rules while feeling emotions like anticipation, disappointment, and frustration.

Young people learn how to make and modify rules through play, as well as when to take the lead and learn when to follow. Indeed, your teenager has the chance to develop self-control and self-discipline through independent, social, and supervised play.

Physical development

Many teenagers are abundant, sometimes an excessive amount of physical energy, surely one of the joys of youth and something to be celebrated and channeled wisely? Teenagers often choose to play sports, dance or enjoy outdoor pursuits. Physical well-being is crucial for success in other domains of life. In sports and other physical activities, your teen is developing strength, muscle control, coordination, and reflexes. These activities allow young people to push limits and try new things such as racing down a hill or swimming underwater – which can motivate them to take risks in other circumstances.

As with the benefits of Play, the lack of play has a damaging impact on the lives of young people. Alongside the rise in poor mental health, suicide rates have risen fourfold in the last 60 years for children younger than 15, and doubled for those aged between 15 and 25. There is undoubtedly a correlation between the lack of play in the lives of young people and these disturbing statistics.

For your Pre-Teen and Teen, play is the freedom to conceive, create, break, or construct rules, to uphold the status quo or disturb it, and then to watch the effects of their activities. Play is unquestionably experimentation and enjoyment for its own sake. Play is an essential life skill for teenagers developing into young adults, as well as a life enhancement.

Do you think your Teen could benefit from therapy? Speak to a qualified Play therapist to learn how your Teen could benefit from play therapy, click here to get in touch today, or if you want to know if Play Therapy could be suitable for your Teen, click here to take our quiz!

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