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Best uses of downtime for teens

Does your teen feel better after downtime or worse?

Best uses of downtime for teens

Even before the pandemic, our culture offered teens innumerable devices and “amusements” presented as restful, escapist, or fun ways to spend downtime: social media, video games, and apps, for starters.

Nine months in, usage of these items has skyrocketed. Teens are spending many more hours than ever online, and parents are noticing the effects, both good and bad. 

With at least a couple or three seasons more of pandemic ahead, we could all use some guidance on where to steer teens (and, frankly, ourselves) to make the best use of downtime.

Writing for the New York Times, psychologist Lisa Damour, author of parenting best sellers Untangled and Under Pressure, breaks teen downtime into three categories – connection, distraction, and reflection – and shines light on what to encourage, and what to cut back on, or avoid.

She writes: “The main aim, of course, should be to feel better after the break than before it. But different downtime choices lead to different kinds of relief. Adolescents (and adults) might want to reflect on the options for how they spend their free time – whether they’ve got 20 spare minutes today or can anticipate more unscheduled time in the weeks ahead.”

READ MORE: Connecting – not with tech – with your teen

Regarding Connection

Damour points out how staying in touch virtually with friends has never been more important. But for kids accustomed to – and deeply missing – personal interactions, the necessary shorthand of texting, or the unrealistic desire for immediate response, can lead to increased anxiety, and misunderstandings.

And while social media allows immediate access to the 24-hour news cycle, with news about the vaccine, or spiking Covid-19 numbers, or politics here and afar, the onslaught of negativity – which, sadly, is the engine of most news – can bring a heavy price on being “informed.”

Damour likens it to a casino: “For teenagers, especially in the context of the pandemic, turning to social media as a way to recharge can be a high-stakes gamble.” She advises teens to seriously reconsider the prospect of “downtime scrolling,” also recently referred to as “doomscrolling.”

Regarding Distraction

Damour is a fan of “happy distractions like competing in a sport or losing oneself in a movie or a book. She says that these activities, can help young people weather persistently difficult circumstances.

Regarding Reflection

“Soft fascination” is another must. This allows the mind to wander and reflect. Examples include “activities that require attention but don’t entirely occupy the mind, such as spending time in nature or taking a long shower.” Absorbing activities, like video games and puzzles, require “hard fascination.” These do not engage the deeper, emotional aspects of the brain, and don’t evoke feelings of restoration and calm. Damour likens soft fascination activities to “mental housekeeping” and “closing browser tabs.”

With winter and more inside hours upon us, we’d all do well to be a bit more mindful of just how, exactly, we spend our downtime as we await the promise of spring. 

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