The God-Given Gift of Play (part 1)

We take a break from the apologetics blog for this important announcement. It has been on my mind, so I NEEDED to share it.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you have perhaps noticed that I have a special interest in teenagers. For the most part, I emphasize the “adult-ness” of the teenager. But for this post, I get to analyze the “child-ness” of the teenager, and why it is pretty awesome. But first…a story that has nothing to do with teenagers.

The other day, my sister Tara came over and stopped by our apartment to drop some baby stuff off for Abrielle (my daughter, due to be born July 17th). She brought her son, my nephew, Kellen. Kellen is now 2 ½ years old. So, what was intended to be a quick drop-off became us hanging out for a couple hours because Kellen and I found some toys that were going to belong to Abrielle. Kellen played with a pop-up animal toy for a while, and then we all went for a walk.

In fact, I’ve gotten to watch Kellen play for a few years now. At several random points, Kellen will say “Uncle Carson, you come over and play basketball?” And having been over, I have learned that if you play basketball with Kellen, he will not let you leave. (He might not even play basketball. He might play with the other toys in his room, but YOU have to continue playing basketball. There is no escape.)

It is interesting to watch…play is the HIGHEST PRIORITY in Kellen’s life. It is how he learns. It is how he socializes. I am becoming more and more convinced that it is what communicates to him that he is valued, far more than words do at this stage.

And as I think back to my own childhood…when I was 6, what in the world could POSSIBLY BE more important than going outside, finding a stick, and then pretending that it was a sword?

Play is an interesting social phenomenon

It is quite interesting that ALL babies and children play, often in the same ways. It is also interesting how society reacts to it.

ALL babies, and young children, play with dolls. For boys, however, we call the dolls “action figures” so that we do not feel like they are girly. But pretending is a critically important part of play.

And this happens in every different society. There is no society where children do not play. There is no society where children do not pretend. Whether they are pretending to be adults or to have a family or to be warriors or to be workers or to drive cars, children pretend.

And this leads to my teenage story. My wife made an observation about teenagers the other day, one that really made me think. One that I SHOULD have figured out, but she was the one who nailed it on the head. We were watching the unending energy level of teenagers and how they constantly ran around at the church and were always laughing or joking or doing something.

Sarah’s observation was this: “I often think of teenagers as new adults…learning how to be adults. But it’s easy for me to forget that teenagers are part adult, but still part children. They are running around because they are playing.”

Playing. Teenagers, who again are weird adult/child hybrids, are simply letting their “child” side show. They are playing. They are having fun, because having fun is one of the highest priorities they have.

Is this bad? I am convinced that this is not bad. But I am also convinced that a lot of society treats this as though it was bad, so in order to transition these teenagers from child-stage to adult-stage, many adults squelch their “playing” side.

I think this is an incredibly huge mistake. Why do I think that? How do adults “squelch” that playful side? That is coming soon.

One thought on “The God-Given Gift of Play (part 1)

  1. By this definition, I never hit adulthood. Actually, that kinda explains a lot, too.

    I think it is a travesty that some adults have forgotten how to play. Being an adult does NOT mean that you have to let go of your child-side. It merely means that you have to recognize when you can let it out.

    Many say that the biggest difference between children and adults is the price of their toys. While this holds some relevance, I think that Carson, rather SARAH, hit it dead on – it is the expressive enjoyment of PLAY that differentiates the two states – and where on your list of priorities it lies. As adults we have a lot more responsibilities but it is important that fun be an integral part of your life as well.

    Of the many adults (or just-out-of-college adults) that I have worked with, I have noticed this… those that balance play and responsibility tend to be more responsible, flexible and have a better general attitude that those that lean too far either way. Most of the complainers that I have noted are those that either prioritize play over responsibility (and then complain when they are held accountable) or those that don’t make enough time for play and get bogged down with responsibility (and tend to lament the amount of work they have to do and the never-ending cycle thereof).

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