4 December 2020
Ever since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, stress levels of students have gone up everywhere. The signs of increased stress in a population may not be clear at first, but one obvious sign occurred last week, when a high school junior or senior wizzed down Gorman Road on a push-pedal Razor scooter, most models of which have not seen the light of day in almost ten years. His face was determined as his feet slapped the sidewalk, and the last of the silver bits of scooter between sheets of rust shone in the fading sunlight.
This behavior might be considered odd in the eyes of many adults, but for teenagers it’s just one way to continue the fight to lower stress levels. Is it childish? Maybe. But sometimes childish activities are the ones that work best.
“Absolutely,” Nile Wortham responded, when the college freshman was asked if he would still enjoy re-watching cartoons from his childhood. “Probably even more honestly.”
So what exactly makes teenagers adore these ‘childish’ activities? The answer is most likely due to serious increases in stress levels as school gets harder. Nile said the year of high school he considered to be the most stressful was sophomore year, the year he first took an AP class. “AP gov is… it’s a lot of work,” he said, wincing at the memory.
Even middle schoolers seem to be hit hard by an increase in stress. Chloe Lincon, an 8th grader, mentioned she regularly goes to bed at 4 am, with homework as the leading culprit.
“So then what do you like to do to relieve that stress?” I asked, curious as to how my fellow teenagers relaxed. Imani Wortham, a sophomore at Howard High, said painting and Netflix, but when asked if she considered any of her hobbies to be childish, admitted to talking ‘baby talk’ to her dogs. “I’m talking like a child,” she said, “Like, ‘Oh you’re my baby, I love you so much.’ Like, it’s bad. And I do it all the time.”
HelpGuide, a non-profit organization says that these activities, specifically activities that involve play, are good for teenagers and adults, not just children, because they increase brain function and booster creativity. In addition, articles on their website specifically mention that the act of play releases endorphins, which “promote an overall sense of well-being” and can even “temporarily relieve pain.”
However some teenagers still reject childish behaviors. Why they do this could be due in part to the negative stigma that still lingers around the idea of play. This stigma develops in most children between the ages of six and eight, when they go through a phase in which they begin to reject certain activities as being ‘for babies.’
“‘Cause I’m the oldest, I thought I was so cool,” said Mia Pinkham, an 8th grader describing her own childhood phase. “My sister was younger and they were like, ‘You have to go to bed.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t- she does.’”
Evidence suggests this stigma remains in the minds of some middle schoolers. While Chloe suggested that “playing on a playground” was a childish way to spend one’s time, many of the members of the Atholton Track and Cross Country teams enjoy taking detours at the end of their runs to spend some time on good-old-fashioned swings and slides. And for seriously exhausted high schoolers, taking time to have fun and relax is probably quite good for them.
Unfortunately, fun hobbies tend to be the first things to go when teenagers run out of time in their schedules. Nile discussed the battle between sleep and hobbies, indicating that if he didn’t make time for fun in his schedule he could gain “more sleep, maybe even like, a little bit like two hours more, but I like doing other things. So I choose to sleep less to have more fun.”
Other teenagers seem to think adults consider them childish for the behaviors they do to de-stress. However, Ms. Dulany, an English teacher at Atholton high school, said the opposite, indicating that she thought teenagers playing games and doing childish activities was “awesome.” Ms. Dulany also said that she likes to de-stress by playing with play-dough and coloring with her daughters, ages 3 and 6. This relieves some of her stress from attempting to take care of her children and run online classes at the same time.
So since childish activities are such great ways to relieve stress, maybe it’s time to pull out the old list of Phineas and Ferb and Spongebob episodes, or the forgotten bins of Star Wars Legos next to the pirate and princess themed dress up toys. And whoever that teen on the Razor scooter was, hopefully he’s having a great time de-stressing, and reliving some old childhood memories as well.