The Power of Play: Why is Play So Important For Children and Teens?

The importance of play
21.03.2022 research

Even though defined simply as recreational activities, play goes beyond just pure fun and giggles. Around the world, play is a right and a necessity to the cognitive, socio-emotional, and physical development of young children. However, play shouldn’t be exclusive to children! It’s also vital in other stages of life as well, from teenagers to adulthood, but its importance is often underestimated and overlooked.

So say no more, gather your luggage, and get set: We’re going on a study trip!


Look, mom, I can fly: The dawn of play


Our first destination is where it all begins. Play and children are like peanut butter and jelly, they always go together. In fact, play is so crucial for children that it has been recognized as a basic right of every child by the United Nations.

Through peekaboo, playing house, pretend play and countless other play activities, children are able to develop 34% more cognitively, linguistically and socio-emotionally (Leung, 2013), and have an increase in childhood IQ by the age of 3.

The benefits don’t stop there, according to Genius of Play and the Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority, play promotes:

  1. Better physical and mental health development
  2. Social and emotional development
  3. Cognitive growth
  4. Creative thinking 
  5. Communication skills 


As children grow and develop, their play evolves as well. In fact, there are up to 11 types of play that children go through in their childhood. But mostly, they are distinguished into 2 types (Montana State University, 2010):

  • Free play/unstructured play: children freely explore their own space, using imagination and creativity to make up a play (fantasy play, pretend play, etc.)
  • Structured play: children follow a fixed set of rules and are usually organized in a fixed space (board games, dance classes, sports)

With that said, there is no right or wrong when it comes to play. But one thing still stays the same: whenever children play, they grow and learn.

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The Teenage Dream: Social, Social, Social

Coming up next, time for teens! Even though teens are considered to be – widely – emotional and impulsive, they often find themselves in need of parental guidance, as they are undergoing lots of drastic socio-emotional shifts and physical developments. Hence, play takes a pivotal role in adolescence, by helping them to cope with these dramatic changes throughout their teenage years.

Of course, teen’s play will certainly be different from children’s play. As a teen transition from childhood to adulthood, their play starts to shift radically from spending time with their parents to playing more with their peers. As a result, their plays tend to be more socially oriented. Hence, there are 3 types of plays that are most commonly found in teens:

  1. Social play: teens playing with peers, adults (sports, informal competitions, exchanging stickers, etc.)
  2. Independent play: teens having their own play (video games, writing stories, crosswords puzzle, personal hobbies)
  3. Guided play: plays that are often school- or academically-related (drama classes, games to learn and review topics, in-lesson games)

Similar to children, adolescents develop through play as well! Teenagers are still “big babies”, learning to push their boundaries of dependence and individuality. As play progresses, adolescents are able to:

  1. Acquire creative thinking, problem-solving skills
  2. Achieve greater independence & ownership in learning
  3. Learn to take better care of their physical well being  
  4. Be more self-regulated emotionally & mentally
  5. Improve their social flexibility & adaptability

After all, as school and academic achievements get more serious, teens are no longer peeps running after each other at recess, picking up crayons and discovering the simple act of play. However, even though teenagers are already in their 10th or 11th years of life, play for them is still the beginning of all learning.


A World Without Play

Can you imagine a world without play? At UNGA, we can’t! All around the world, play is still a luxury that many children or families cannot afford, and this could lead to detrimental consequences. According to Brown (2014), the absence of play during the first 10 years of life is linked to major emotional dysregulation, diminished impulse control, decreased aggression management, and increased difficulties in interpersonal communication. Regardless, play shouldn’t be a commodity, play should be enjoyed freely by anyone and anywhere, just like how Oprah puts it: “you get to play, everybody gets to play!”

Therefore, at UNGA, it is our mission to break the boundaries and bring smiles to children all around the world, through the power of play. By working with retailers around the world, we’re proud to have brought so many smiles to children and families across the globe. But our mission is nowhere near finished. Are you ready to join us? 

Discover more about our educational toys and concepts that encourage children to play to grow! 

Read: Why Are Board Games So Popular With Families?

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