According to certified recreational therapist, Corey Hickman, today’s teens are experiencing a recreational crisis. “The students I see nowadays typically engage in recreation almost exclusively from a seated position,” says Hickman, who is the residential life director for Sunrise RTC, a treatment program for teen girls with emotional and behavioral issues. “Many of our students arrive at Sunrise addicted to video games, television, or social media,” says Hickman, “which typically means that they’re not engaged in more physical or social forms of recreation.”
Therapeutic recreation is based on the notion that healthy forms of recreation involve opportunities for movement and identity formation, both of which are critical to emotional health for adolescents.
MOVEMENT AND IDENTITY
Movement: Physical movement, so lacking in today’s screen-obsessed adolescent culture, helps promote blood flow, cognition, alertness, and even lymphatic function, all of which have a profound impact on emotional well-being. In fact, proper lymph function is entirely dependent up physical movement. Mood, in turn, is powerfully connected to proper lymph function. Certain lymphatic disorders are linked directly to emotional dysfunction such as depression and anxiety. In addition, exercise helps cleanse the body of toxins and releases mood-enhancing endorphins. It can also cue the body to produce melatonin (a powerful antioxidant and natural sleep aid) on a cycle that helps prevent and resolve sleep disturbances.
Identity: Hickman also designs recreational activities to help with identity formation which, he says, impacts an adolescent’s sense of self-efficacy, social competence, and self-esteem. Identity formation is a critical developmental task for teens and is often disrupted in young people who are experiencing emotional problems. “Being able to say, for instance, “I’m a jogger,” or “I’m a hiker” or “I’m a volleyball player” can be a big step toward identity formation for someone who feels a bit lost with regard to their own sense of self,” say’s Hickman.
The achievement component of recreational activities (striving for excellence, competing with yourself or others, measuring results) also promotes a positive sense of identity.
BRINGING CHANGE HOME
Like any positive change made in treatment, healthy recreational habits can fall apart once a child returns home. That’s because the structure of treatment is suddenly absent and the presence of old triggers is suddenly present. Hickman encourages parents to take a proactive stance in helping their adolescent maintain positive recreational habits after treatment. “It’s tough,” says Hickman, “but it can be done.”
Here are a few tips he offers to parents who want to help support their child transfer healthy recreational habits back home:
Model: If you’re too busy, too tired, or too stressed for healthy recreational activities, you won’t have the credibility you’ll need to effectively encourage your teen to maintain positive habits. While your child is in treatment is the best time to engage in your own recreational renaissance, establishing good habits so that you can model positive behavior when your child returns home.
Invite: Inviting your adolescent to participate in your own activities can deepen the impact of modeling and create an opportunity to connect. Invite (but don’t coerce) your teen to attend your yoga class or go to the gym with you.
Encourage: Don’t forget that recreation is supposed to be fun and fun is a matter of personal taste. So provide a wide range of options for your child to participate in and keep the conversation positive and encouraging!
Challenge: If your child is having a difficult time selecting an activity to participate in, don’t accept inactivity as an option. Challenging your teen to try something new or pursue their passion can yield a little resistance but a lot of payoff. “I was a shy kid,” says Hickman, “but my dad really challenged me to participate in a team sport. I picked Little League, which ended up being a life changer for me. I would have missed out this formative opportunity if my dad had been willing to take “no” for an answer.”