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Janine Halloran: Humans are biologically wired to play. tBR Person of the Week

As a child and adolescent therapist, I get to play for a living. I love it when I meet new clients, and I get to hear what kind of things they enjoy, what games they like, how they spend their free time - in other words, how they play. And even though it may seem a little strange, I talk a lot about play with my teen clients too. I love getting to know their play styles because I know how essential it is throughout the lifespan and how beneficial it is for everyone, including adolescents.

Between schoolwork, college admissions pressure, worrying about what's going on social media, and conflicts with family or friends, it's no wonder teens overall are more stressed out and anxious these days. And it's hard to escape that stress and anxiety. If there's a huge fight happening with friends, just because they're not in the same space anymore doesn't mean they can block out the argument. The fight can follow them via social media or apps or on a group message.

Also, as adolescents, their bodies and brains are experiencing a lot of changes. Their brain transforms SO MUCH as they go through adolescence. Plus, socially, things are changing. Friendships may be shifting and changing from when they were younger, and they may start to get interested in dating or being in a romantic relationship with someone.

The truth is, teens will feel a vast range of emotions. Part of being human means that they will experience a wide variety of emotions throughout their week, their day, and sometimes even within a few minutes. So how can we help our teens learn to manage their emotions? I like to explore so many coping skills with teens, but one of my favorites is PLAYING!

Humans are biologically wired to play. In his book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, Dr. Stuart Brown says that a lack of play is similar to a lack of sleep. Just as all humans need to sleep, they also need time to play. This is not just for little kids - this means teens and adults as well. Play is a natural stress reliever and can help anyone reset. Everyone benefits when they take breaks and have a good time.

Something fascinating about play is that what one person finds enjoyable, another may hate. For example, when my family and I went to Disney World, the ride my husband talked about wanting to go on from day one was Splash Mountain. He had fond memories of going on it as a kid. So, I agreed to try it out and give it a chance. Truth time: I hated that ride. My stomach still hurts when I think about it. However, my husband and daughter thought it was the BEST and wanted to go on it again. I said, "No thanks," and went over to "It's a Small World" (totally more my speed).

Given that everyone has a different idea of what playing is, it’s helpful for teens to figure out what they find enjoyable and relaxing, then take a few minutes to do it. Here are ten ideas to get a teen in your life started on fun and enjoyable activities to do during their downtime.

• Play an instrument

• Hang out with a friend (virtually or in real life)

• Try something new

• Help others by doing kind acts

• Spend time with a pet

• Make something with their hands

• Read a magazine or a book for fun

• Make plans for the future

• Listen to a podcast

• Watch a movie

"Even though you're growing up, you should never stop having fun." -Nina Dobrev


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