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RevolTeens: The Play and Joy Revolution, by Christine Lively

We are back to school, and the only thing that has changed, it seems is that we’re all wearing masks. At least, that’s the only thing that appears to have changed. In the first few weeks of school we have been overwhelmed in our high school library by the sheer numbers of teens who are checking out books and talking about them. It has been stunning. We have many more students spending time in the library. Yes, they are coming in to check out books – so many more check outs than we usually have and among every kind of student imaginable. Many of our students rediscovered their love of reading and found inspiration in the BookTok videos on TikTok. It’s been great to see so many teens reading for enjoyment and I love talking with them about the books they’ve read, there’s another revolution happening. The teens have started playing again.

I think about how American “society” views and treats teenagers a lot. When kids are young, parents and teachers encourage them to play for the sake of playing to learn social skills, problem solving, and for pure joy. As children get older, adults are constantly on the lookout for what each child has a talent for: Are they good at a sport/music/performing or do they have other talents? Most of the time, well meaning adults will encourage children to work hard in the areas where they have talent and encouraging them to spend more and more time doing it – soccer tournaments, academic clubs, community theater classes and on and on until kids are over-scheduled and stressed. During the pandemic, activities, sports, and other activities were cancelled, and an expanse of free and unscheduled time was available. Many families and kids seem to have rediscovered play as a valuable and joyful way to spend time.

We have seen it in the library. We’ve unearthed an ancient manual typewriter from a storage area and placed it out on our library floor. We gave no lessons nor did we offer advice. Students immediately approached it and have begun writing short thoughtful “typewriter poetry” which we’ve posted on the walls to inspire other students. Still other teens have used the typewriter to write love notes to each other which they exchange. There’s no grade or glory attached – it’s simply for fun.

Still other students have found ways to play by coloring giant coloring pages. We put them out with some markers, and they soon are colored and are beautiful. We have puzzles that are completed by students who huddle together in their masks and fit pieces together. We have at least five chess games happening all day long between students who are friends, and students who are from different countries. They all come to play.

Playing is revolutionary because teens are constantly bombarded with the same messages we adults do – work, work, work – rest and play are wasting time. Playing is a direct revolution against the grind culture we all hear so much about. The culture that says that our value lies only in the work we can produce and the money we make. Yes, teens do work, and study, and practice the skills that they believe may be valuable one day – all things that cause stress and anxiety. Time to play and enjoy themselves balances out their time and gives them a necessary break from stress that they need to keep going.

The mental health crisis we all have read about and experienced first hand with our own families, kids has been sobering. Death has surrounded all of us so immediately for over eighteen months. Filling every day with working, stress about grades, and getting into college doesn’t work for so many teens. It’s just too much. Playing is hitting a pause in their day and allowing them to find reasons to enjoy their lives while they continue to navigate their way through a continuing pandemic.

Teens need a play revolution.

They need time for joy for its own sake. Time with other teens that is not spent trudging through a group project, a job, or another practice. Time that’s not graded, or judged. Time that’s spent enjoying what they’re doing.

Only when they get a break for joy can they keep the hope in their hearts to make the change in the world that we wish to see. Only when they get a break for joy and play can they get back to the serious and necessary business of revolting and changing the world. m

A message on our coloring page from an anonymous RevolTeen.

About Christine Lively

Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. I am a Certified Life Coach for Kids 14-24 and my website is christinelively.com. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively.


  1. Silvana Cantagallo says

    I totally, one hundred percent agree with everything in this article! I am excited to try the typewriter idea myself in my middle school library! Thanks for sharing!

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