Study Skills
Deep Play Helps Teenagers Learn
Deep Play Helps Teenagers Learn
5 min read
By Kathryn Rawson
Deep Play Helps Teenagers Learn

Play is most often associated with fun, relaxation, and rest. When I remember the last time I 'played' as an adult, it was probably a board game at a dinner party with friends.

How we think about play has recently changed since an emerging discipline of 'play science' has gained traction.

Dr. Stuart Brown, psychiatrist and founder of the National Institute for Play, is renowned globally as a 'play scientist'. His book, aptly named Play, uses the latest research in neuroscience, psychology, and social science to consider the essential role of play in learning, creativity, intelligence, and problem-solving.

Brown's research has found that play is integral to the success and well-being of children - it helps them learn and keeps them mentally and physically healthy.

That's why, at Coachbit, we encourage our students to play just as much as we encourage them to focus or study.

What is 'Deep Play'?

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Silicon Valley consultant, and Stanford Scholar, is another influential supporter of play. His book, Rest, promotes the concept of active rest, which is important for productivity and innovation.

His work challenges the old binary of rest and work and explores the benefits of naps, play, and exercise.

Pang introduced the concept of 'deep play.' Deep play refers to play activities that are mentally absorbing and require skills to overcome problems. In most cases, they are both physically and mentally challenging. In comparison, shallow play refers to activities that are not mentally absorbing -- such as watching a series or sunbathing.

Several notable people adopted deep play. Winston Churchill was an avid painter. Albert Michelson, a Nobel award winner responsible for measuring the speed of light, played the violin.

A great example of deep play is rock climbing. It combines physical stamina and mental stimulation. The brain is active in tactical and strategic thinking, and the legs are getting a strenuous workout. For others, play may be fishing, running, playing a musical instrument, scrapbooking, or surfing.

Why Teenagers Need to Play

Play is inherently fun but serves a far greater evolutionary purpose than just entertainment. Dr. That's why Brown says we are 'built to play and built by play.' The by-products of play are learning, creativity, social connection, and problem-solving. These are all critical to our ancestors' evolution.

During adolescence, our brains transform more rapidly than in any other period. That's why during adolescence, play is more important than ever.

Deep Play enhances connections in the teenage brain responsible for cognitive processes such as learning, decision-making, memory, and emotion. Therefore, play directly leads to brain development.

What's more, play builds resilience, empathy, and a sense of belonging. Group play, in particular, helps build social connections and teaches social skills such as emotional self-regulation. Through play, teenagers learn to deal with frustration, anticipation, and disappointment.

How to Encourage Your Teenager to Play

1. Promote Individual Play

Hobbies and sports are great starting points for teenagers to engage in deep play. These can be done in group settings or individually. Many community groups and teams are available if their schools do not provide classes or teams.

It can sometimes be beneficial to think out of the box regarding play. For example, getting your teenager to begin a training program with their dog can be challenging and fulfilling on many levels.

Rock climbing, as mentioned earlier, is also an excellent activity for mental and physical stimulation. These examples will help build confidence, teach discipline, and promote innovation.

Remember, play should be satisfying and enjoyable. If an activity does not meet that play principle, simply move on and find another that makes your teenager lose the sense of time.

2. Play as a Family

Play is a practice that will benefit teenagers, children, and the whole family. Have a conversation as a family and list all of your favorite types of play. Make a Venn Diagram, and you'll quickly see where your favorites overlap.

 If you enjoy hiking, fishing, or reading, implement those as a family. Family vacations are also a great place to spend time intentionally playing together.

3. Technology and Play

Most teens prefer to spend their time doing technology-based play, such as video games. 

Video games often include little real-life interaction. Recent research suggests that those who play excessive video games delay developing empathy, trust, and concern for others.

These negative effects can be managed if your teenager's gaming time is monitored. 

Jane McGonigal, author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Makes Us Better and How They Can Change the World, claims that less than 20 hours of gaming a week can have positive benefits.

Gaming can increase levels of social cooperation, promote problem-solving and improve cognitive skills.

It's vital to remember that should gaming exceed 20 hours a week, the positive benefits quickly turn negative.

Final Thoughts

Play is fundamental to the brain development of teenagers.

Researchers have warned that the suppression of play can have devastating consequences on our physical and mental well-being.

At Coachbit, the ability to play is a necessary life skill to be learned and fostered. Play is essential for learning and cognitive development and helps raise empathetic, resilient, self-assured teenagers.


Else P. Teenagers and Playing: Are Pastimes Like Neknominate a Usual Response to Adolescence? Children (Basel). 2014 Oct 22;1(3):339-54

Perry Else, The Value of Play

Sergio Pellis and Vivian Pellis, The Playful Brain: Venturing to the Limits of Neuroscience

Stuart Brown, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang,_ Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less_

Jane McGonigal, Reality is Broken: Why Games Makes Us Better and How They Can Change the World


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