I am now the mom of a full-fledged teenage boy. Maxwell is my first born of two dudes and has always had a very playful spirit. He’s got a little brother, and having him around has meant that Max has been able to continue to play with certain games and toys that would otherwise have been deemed “too babyish” for him. His little brother Truman has definitely helped prolong Max’s time in play-land.
But he’s now 15 and neck-deep in adolescent priorities like increased academic rigor, high school athletics, and, most importantly, the whole friends/girls/social scene.
All of these things leave little if any time for Max to cut loose and disappear into a purely playful place void of team pressure, strict standards, or peer judgment.
Nowadays, I’m working much harder than ever to sanction time for Max to get lost back into his amazing imagination and connect with his creative self. I find myself longing for those blissful days of spontaneous trips to the playground and impromptu Nerf blaster battles. Everything, even our beloved random acts of playfulness, needs to be Dry Erase-marked onto the big master calendar hanging in the kitchen.
Our conversations usually revolve around what homework needs to be done, what time this week’s practices are, which friends he wants to hang with come the weekend, or who needs a ride to where. That is until I make a point to stop the crazy train, shut down all devices, and demand some unplugged play … although I don’t call it play. That’s way too babyish. I call it “family time”. And it’s WAY harder to make happen then I ever dreamed it would be. Disconnecting from the outside world and doing something silly and fun for even a couple hours can feel like three days on a deserted island in teen time.
But just as your kids would never tell you they yearn for boundaries, healthy food, and security, they also won’t tell you they are longing to play again. But there is something I’ve recently discovered.
All you have to do is provide an opportunity. Maybe even force it at first. A mandatory play date where none of their friends will see it on Facebook. It might be a silly board game, or water balloon battle, or goofy game of ping-pong.
And then stand back and watch the floodgates of freedom, conversation, joy, silliness, and fun open up with a mighty roar. Your kids will tell you things they have been holding in, they’ll remember that you’re on their side, and they’ll give up their completely age-appropriate rebellious, independence-finding ways, and let you in. And you’ll both feel that familiar deep connective tissue you used to feel when they were little. Holding fast, building new strands, and not letting go.