If you have a teenager, then you may have noticed he or she spends a fair amount of time on electronics (television, phone, computer, etc.). Because of this, adolescents and teens today are greatly lacking in physical activity. Of course, physical activity helps keep the body healthy, but what is often forgotten, is the immense impact it can have on mental health as well. Exercise of any kind releases endorphins, which enhance mood, and melatonin, which aids in resolving and/or preventing sleep issues.
The adolescent and teen years involve one of the most crucial developmental periods – identity formation. Recreational activities can be hugely effective in increasing one’s sense of social competence, self-efficacy, and self-esteem and worthiness (all major aspects of identity).
Benefits of recreational therapy for teens
Recreational therapy can benefit a wide range of people, from older adults to young children, as it can enhance all areas of life including physical, cognitive, and emotional. Yet, for the teenage population, recreational therapy has shown some important advantages. Recreational therapy is a unique approach to treatment, and the type of recreation can be chosen based on individual needs. Moreover, teens are often susceptible to the idea of participating in recreational therapy, as it can involve activities they are interested in.
Teens who struggle with mental illness, substance use/abuse or behavioral issues can greatly benefit from participating in recreational therapy.
- Better hand/eye coordination
- Improved fine/gross motor skills
- Increased endurance
- More strength and flexibility
- Improved sleep
- Increased self-esteem
- Increased motivation
- Opportunities for creative expression
- Increased confidence
- Decreased depression
- Decreased boredom
- Opportunity to practice stress management skills
- Practice with following directions
- Heightened sensory and environmental awareness
- Enhanced communication and interpersonal skills
- Improved decision making
- Increased attention span
- Opportunities to express and voice needs
- Improved memory and retention skills
Recreational therapy activities
When talking about recreational therapy, one could imagine there endless opportunities and venues in which this therapeutic approach could take place. And while recreational therapy can take many forms, some of the most popular are:
spending time outdoors is beneficial to overall well-being, both physically and mentally. Although the potential physical rewards may seem more obvious, the mental health benefits are just as impactful. Research shows teens who participated in regular hikes reported lower levels of depression, anxiety, hopelessness, and suicidal ideation.
One of the most popular forms of recreational therapy, swimming, is a great intervention for teens. Swimming promotes safety, sensory integration, and of course, provides a great venue for exercise. Aquatic approaches to recreational therapy are also fantastic as being in the water is a naturally calming environment for many. For those who are fearful of water, or do not know how to swim, recreational therapy in a pool can be a way to challenge and conquer fears.
Gardening, also referred to as horticulture, has many potential benefits for teens and adolescents. Gardening is not only a fantastic physical activity, but it also can reduce stress levels, improve mood and focus, and promote healthier eating habits.
When it comes to outings as recreational therapy, the potential options are endless. Some examples of outings are going to the movies, bowling, the zoo, concerts, community festivals, parks, shopping malls, etc. Outings are often selected based on the needs of the teen (or teens), and/or the areas of struggle. Outings are a way to integrate into the community, practice social skills, learn life skills, and challenge fears and anxieties.
Other possible recreational therapy activities include:
- Art therapy – this provides a unique venue for teenagers to express themselves without having to discuss things verbally. Many teens and adolescents find art therapy a more approachable way of processing difficult thoughts, emotions, and interactions.
- Music therapy – can help facilitate developmental skills, encourage creative expression, and relieve depression and anxiety.
- Pet therapy – used to treat depression, anxiety, and social isolation. Pet therapy can also help teens learn life skills around responsibility. Pet therapy often involves dogs, cats, or horses (equine therapy)
- Sports (i.e. – basketball, volleyball, soccer, baseball, etc.) – teaches leadership and team building skills, along with promoting socialization and healthy competition.