One of the areas that have to change as our kids grow up into teenagers is in the area of play.  This is a learning process I went on as our kids grew older – was play still a valid part of our lifestyle now the kids were teenagers?  Play for teenagers? It is one of the concerns with early education pushes and hectic lifestyles that our children don’t have time to play anymore.  A childhood full of imagination and creativity actually does give our children a solid foundation for learning – not just in their future, but at the time of playing they are learning.  Confirming the value of play is an important place to start – even as parents of teenagers.  
We don't think in terms of play for teenagers but they need to learn to use their discretionary time wisely - and that will look like play.
[Tweet “Parents need to help their teens move on from play to using their discretionary time wisely.”]

There is a Value in Play

Play creates opportunity for our kids to learn

  • Social skills – how to play with other children and enjoy life
  • Focus skills – how to play by themselves
  • Life skills – as they build real life scenarios and act out roles in their play
  • Thinking skills – as they solve problems
  • Physical skills – as they stretch their physical abilities they strengthen their muscles
  • Moral skills – as they learn to interact with people and things, they learn to make wise choices, moral choices – their character is built.

It seems though that even for parents who do value play, and who do see educational value in play that when it comes to our teenagers we become a little vague.  What do teenagers play? Well, a teenager would say – Mum!  We don’t play – that’s for kids! I’m reminded of the time when I had to stop organising ‘play dates’ for my teens – apparently teens don’t have play-dates, they hang out!  It is important for mums to get the right lingo!! When my kids first hit teen years (and we had the above conversation) I didn’t want my teens just to hang out.  The emphasis is on the ‘just’ – I wanted them to be creative, and purposeful with their ‘play’ – er um… discretionary and social time.  So what is it that teenagers do when they aren’t studying? A lot of teenagers just hang – they either hang with their friends, either in real life or on social media or they play computer games, or watch movies. Is this the best or the only option for teens?  It is important for us as parents, to have an understanding of the benefits of play not only for children, but also for teenagers (and to be honest, for us adults as well!) When I talk about ‘play’ I’m talking about the time that isn’t filled with responsibilities.  A teen’s responsibilities are study and other commitments, household chores, family activities.  Play is what would fill their ‘free’ time, or as we have called it over the years ‘productive free time’ or as adults call it, ‘discretionary time’.

Play for Teenagers

Play for teenagers is going to look different – the activities will be different but the learning opportunities are still there.  They will still be learning how to engage with people, they will learn to understand and accept themselves, develop and grow in focus skills, life skills, thinking skills, build physical strength and skill, and make moral choices.  Play is still a learning opportunity for teens. Just as play helps prepare a toddler or young child for the next season of their life – the same goes with the teenager.  Play for a teenager generally looks like interests, hobbies and friends* and we need to help them see that how they spend their time today will impact their tomorrow.  To me, this is why endless hours of computer games and texting or facebook-ing has its limitations.  It is recreational, and it is social – and we need, and our teens need these aspects in their life, but there needs to be more to their life. So what can teens do for play? Sport & physical fitness, chess, music, reading, art, craft, building, photography and movie making, web design, volunteering, fishing, drama & dance, inventing, cooking, magic tricks, training a dog, bird watching or breeding chickens, astronomy, model making, robotics, candle making, go-cart racing, origami, … the list is endless. There is no right or wrong.  No one hobby is more purposeful or productive than another.  The goals that I set for my kids when they were looking for productive free time activities were:

  • Are you doing something – with your mind, your hands, your body?
  • Are you producing something – you can produce physical things, like a project, or relational things like a friendship, or a not so tangible thing – like an idea or knowledge.
  • Are you purposeful – that is, do you know what you are doing? Have you chosen to do this or are you wafting.

For the homeschool family there are two benefits to recognising and using play time as learning opportunities – even for teens.

  1. We can shorten our formal study time, because we know they are learning skills in other times throughout their day
  2. We can create an individualised plan for their education – using their passions, interests and skills to fine tune their education.

One test that I often think about is that if I give value to an activity in my life why not in my teenagers?  I give value to my blogging, scrapbooking, quilting, cuppas with friends, telephone conversations.  But I also keep these things in balance with the responsibilities and commitments of life.

Help our Teenagers to use their Time Wisely

We need to help our teenagers appreciate the importance of using their time wisely.  As our children get older it isn’t about us telling them what to do, but rather it is about us giving them the tools and motivations to grow and make wise decisions about their life themselves.  It has helped my kids to see their day divided into different purposes:

  • Personal time – This is the time they need for sleeping, eating, dressing etc.  Time to look after their body and spirit.
  • Responsibilities – this covers not only their chore type responsibilities, but also the responsibilities that comes with their particular season of life – study for a student, work and other commitments.
  • Discretionary time – free time for them to choose to use wisely. Hobbies, projects, sport, volunteering, social time.
  • Relaxing time – this is the time they need to recharge and rest (closely connected to personal time but we’ve made a distinction that personal time is generally getting ready for the day, and relaxing time is more about the end of the day or after responsibilities are done.)

We haven’t divided our day, or our schedule according to these categories necessarily, but as we talk about managing our time and our commitments these are the aspects that we talk about. My hope in this article is that you will see play as a valuable learning opportunity for your teen. That you will either

  1. Acknowledge value in the interests your kids have where in the past you may have thought they were wasting their time and should be studying books, or
  2. Help them gain interest beyond the device they seem attached to, interests that will expand their horizons and prepare them with skills for their tomorrow.

Play has value – even for the teenager so we need to not only make time for their hobbies and interests but encourage and support them in their efforts to grow and build skills and competency in these areas. *Yes, teenagers have friends as their ‘hobbies’.  Friends are very important to this age group, but even time with friends can be unproductive or productive.  Idleness isn’t healthy – so I have taught my kids to have some time where they are just catching up, being silly and having a laugh, but I have also encouraged them to find a project to work on or a board game or sport to play when they visit with their friends.  We also encourage them to recognise when conversation becomes dribble and to either unplug (if it is an online conversation) or find something to do if it is in real life.  

Further Reading:

Parents need to encourage creativity in our children. Creativity is more than art. It is the ability to be able to look at something in a new way, and/or the ability to make something.
How to Encourage Creativity in your Children:  Parents need to encourage creativity in our children. Creativity is more than art. It is the ability to be able to look at something in a new way, and/or the ability to make something.
Being productive for productivity sake just creates busyness - but when we see that we can develop our skills and talents in order to bless others we have a deeper purpose.
Why Spending Time Growing your Talents is Worth it:  Being productive for productivity sake just creates busyness – but when we see that we can develop our skills and talents in order to bless others we have a deeper purpose.
Boredom is the inability to make wise decisions with how to spend our time.
Dealing with Boredom: Boredom is the inability to make wise decisions with how to spend our time – and we need to teach our kids how to do this.

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