Developmentally Healthy Play Diet: Ages 10-13

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Children begin to make more independent decisions about the type of play they like as they progress to their pre-teens, or tweens. While they may still be open to the suggestions and encouragement of their parents, they increasingly express their own interests in play activities. They may want to play with friends that they met in school rather than those who live in their neighborhood. They are likely to start developing interests that did not originate with a family member or through encouragement by their parents.

A healthy Play Diet for children between the ages of 10 and 13 should involve a great deal of physical activity. Combining this type of activity with social opportunities, such as playing on sports teams, going on bike rides with their peers, skateboarding at a local park, or going to summer camp to improve skills for softball or basketball, is quite common. Creative, non-structured play tends to be less prevalent during this time, and free play tends to lessen during this age range, while activities such as music lessons or after-school classes in the arts tend to increase. Social play becomes increasingly powerful in early adolescence, when it seems that friends sometimes become more important than parents. Many tweens and teens are unprepared for navigating social media such as Facebook, where sniping, bantering, and bullying often take place, so setting some rules and guidelines becomes increasingly important.

Below, you’ll find Play Diet recommendations for developmentally-healthy activities for children between ages 10 and 13 across the five types of play — social, active, creative, free and digital play:

Social Play

Friends, communication, and socializing are increasingly important parts of the 10- to 13-year-old play diet. Some social play is electronic in nature, given that more than 50% of children in this age group have cell phones and, as a result, text and talk on a regular basis. However, it is imperative that parents insist on and make the effort to support face-to-face socializing. The ages from 10 to 13 are the time when youngsters have more sleepovers, and ideas about having a boyfriend or girlfriend begin to emerge.

Active Play

A healthy play diet for children ages 10 to 13 involves large amounts of exercise and activity. These may be the most important years for establishing a lifelong routine of vigorous physical exercise as preteens begin to have a voice in their involvement in organized sports. It is imperative that parents model and nurture the idea that physical play is a lifelong activity rather than something just for young kids.

Creative Play

At this age creative play tends to involve the pursuit of artistic activities or a deeper exploration of a personal interest. For example, children who like hands-on activities may start to do construction projects around the house, while those with artistic inclination may want to try using new materials for projects. Those who like technology may wish to learn programming skills or develop mini-games. Parents can support creative play by encouraging, chauffeuring, and purchasing necessary materials for these children.

Free Play

Free play becomes a less prominent part of children’s play at this time. This is in part because much of it is imaginative and may seem immature to a 10- to 13-year-old. However, it is important that parents recognize their children’s need for unstructured time without the requirements of school, lessons, or activities. Parents can help by not over-scheduling their children and making sure they are not overwhelmed by excessive homework or expectations.

Digital Play

Digital play is an increasingly prominent part of children’s lives between the ages of 10 and 13. Children now start to play many more online games and may make arrangements to “meet” with their friends after school online to play a game. Playing a multi-person video game may be a prominent activity at sleepovers. Online Facebook games and other social networking games also become a common method of communication as well as engagement among children this age.

Parents are strongly encouraged to look at the ESRB rating when selecting video games for their 10- to 13-year-olds. It is also important to pay attention to your own sensibilities and values in selecting games and to recognize that not all “M-rated” games are the same. The best types of video games for 10- to 13-year-olds tend to be action, active, sports, shooter, strategy, and simulation games. These games have the requisite amount of action and intrigue to teach children, and many of them require the logical thinking skills that tweens are developing.

Other forms of digital play become a prominent feature in the lives of children between the ages of 10 and 13. More than 50% of children in this age range own their own cell phones, many of them smartphones. In addition to the concerns regarding inappropriate, excessive use of texting, it is troubling that many of these smartphones allow children unimpeded access to disturbing and inappropriate information on the Internet.

Digital-play strategies for children between the ages of 10 and 13:

  • Supervision is absolutely necessary. Children this age may need more supervision than younger children, as they are more apt to explore areas where they should not go. Parents need to have very clear discussions about what is acceptable and unacceptable use of video games and, more importantly, the Internet. It is still very important that the use of electronic media such as computers, video games, and television be in public and not private areas. Unfortunately, smartphones and tablets make this more difficult to monitor.

  • Play together. Particularly because teens and preteens tend to push the limits, it is important for parents to observe what they are playing and how they are responding to it. It is crucial not only to observe the game but also how children respond to the game. For 13-year-olds, play together by being friends on Facebook, following the child on Twitter, or engage in an online game together.

  • Model a healthy play diet. Doing much more than watching television and playing on the computer in your spare time will model and help you to set limits for this age range, when the greatest jump in media consumption occurs. Consider setting up a routine exercise program that you keep track of electronically with your 10- to 13-year-old.

  • Start talking and listening. This is a great age to begin having thoughtful discussions about your children’s interest in digital play and also about the role of media in their lives. As you listen you may find ways to implement many of the strategies discussed in this book about ways to use digital play to teach problem-solving and executive functioning skills.

Recommended games and apps:

 Part of our series on Play Diet recommendations:

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