Families That Play Together

father and son fishing together

Recreation has all kinds of benefits for the mental, physical, and social health of young people. One of the primary benefits of youth recreation is that it often builds a sense of community and provides opportunities to connect with peers. Strong social relationships between youth are incredibly important, but so are healthy family dynamics. While many recreational programs are focused entirely on youth, there’s lots of evidence that points to the value of family-based recreational experiences as well.

family playing dominoes

Research shows that participating in recreational activities as a family can boost a sense of connection between family members and perceptions of the strength of a family unit. While all different kinds of recreation can be beneficial for families, outdoor recreation may be especially powerful because it often provides a chance for families to overcome challenges together. It also presents opportunities for youth to develop their role within a family as multiple generations explore and take risks together. Informal play as a form of family recreation can also have a significant impact as it often leads to the development of family customs and traditions that create a sense of shared identity among family members.

family having a cookout

Not every family sees itself as a happy, cohesive unit picnicking in a park, and time with family members can feel stressful and challenging for many people. Lots of families experience interpersonal difficulties ranging from deeply-held shared trauma to the more mundane problems of grumpy adolescents. While this may make family-based recreation more intimidating, research tells us that participating in shared recreational experiences can be an effective way to enrich strained relationships and take steps towards more positive family dynamics. Families that recreate together may even be more likely to have good conflict resolution skills than those that don’t.

father, son, and grandfather playing soccer

Family recreation isn’t just helpful for relationships between family members, however. Kids from families that recreate together tend to have more positive relationships with peers as well. Youth who participate in family-based recreation are developing social and physical skills that will help them succeed in school and extracurricular activities such as music, art, and sports. Finally, when parents model healthy recreation practices like walking, biking, or taking time to destress, youth learn good habits that they can carry forward into adulthood and someday, maybe even into families of their own. 

parent helping a child on the monkey bars

Family-based recreation can be as simple as time at the playground or a family game night. It doesn’t have to be the adventure of a lifetime, but time playing and learning with their families can have lifelong benefits for youth. If you’re looking for ideas for your family, check out these suggestions for activities to do at home or these suggestions for family-focused outdoor recreation.