Inspiring Play in Lockdown - Motivating play for teenagers

1 September 2021

Play is not only for little kids. In fact, young people still need play as a vital tool for learning, exploring their talents, demonstrating competence, and improving leadership.  Getting outdoors or playing more, and taking a break from structure and school work is also vital to a young person's mental health and wellbeing. Play is a wonderful way to release tension.

When asked about their 2020 lockdown experiences, parents of teens were unanimous in their opinions that teens and young people need different things from parents in order to play, but mostly it was just time.

Young people might be more likely to seek peer input than parent input, so encourage your teen to connect and share with friends.

“My kids were much more into sporty play, taking bigger risks, having parent-free time, and being independent of us, but needed new ideas occasionally.”

"Wouldn’t change anything apart from trying new ideas. Quality time with the kids is a priority.”

Despite being more independent and self-starting than younger kids, teens may need more encouragement and motivation to play away from task-based work or study.  Here is what other parents found worked well:

1.Encourage play.

Motivation  can fluctuate, so giving a young person the time and permission to take a break and do nothing can be a great place for play to start. 

“We discovered when the kids were not motivated to do schooling, letting them take a break was one of the simplest ways of ‘permission giving’, which usually ended in play. For us, reframing the ‘break from work’, as a chance to reset your headspace, was really important.”

2.Give them permission to be child-like.

Tapping into their ‘younger-self’ to design their own activities can free them from the pressure to be adult-like. If your teen feels like play is childish and not suited to them, challenge them to make something more inclusive, fun, and whānau-friendly, like making a new game to teach everyone.

"My 14 year old son was a little less motivated and could have easily spent all day gaming with his friends. He put together a long list of games and activities to do as a family. We played one each day.”

3.Set goals.

At the beginning of the week or in the morning, set goals around the ratio of screen time versus play and active time, as well as scheduling a ‘whānau play hour’.  Talk about the structure of the day and discuss what works best for your family's routine. Parents said they had fond memories of baking, walking, and cycling together in previous lockdowns.

“Afternoon is a great time for us to be active and reduce screen-fatigue, so we always had a family play-hour there somewhere.”

4.Make the ‘play’ time more about being active.

Use Tik Tok dance challenges, other siblings, bikes and toys, physical games, local forests, or sports fields etc. 

“If I think we need to spice things up I’ll bring out the dad challenges, these would include things like scoring the cooking of meals (and everyone would cook), baking, tidiest room, chose a movie to watch (and everyone gives it a mark out of 10), choose a board game to play (everyone rates), share a funny youtube clip... " 

Here are a few handy websites to check out for your rangatahi:


This is the third in a three-part series on inspiring play in lockdown developed in partnership with Wellington City Council. View the other parts here: 

Part 1: Sustaining play for preschoolers 

Part 2: Encouraging play for primary-aged kids

Nuku Ora is the Wellington Regional Sports Trust. Our role across the wider Wellington region is advocating, supporting and growing emphasis on ensuring that play is an everyday part of children’s lives to ensure that the benefits accrued from a playful childhood are not lost to reducing levels of free time for both adults and children. 

Wellington City Council is the territorial authority for Wellington City, and is committed to promoting and advocating for play for tamariki and rangatahi throughout the city. 

Both organisations aim to promote the importance of play, engage tamariki in a diverse range of play experiences and opportunities, connect whānau to safe places and space to play and enable parents and caregivers to play more, every day!

Teen Play 2