Changes in behavior, way of thinking, and identity are common during adolescence. But in some teens, these changes could lead to socio-emotional issues, such as self-doubt, secrecy, and isolation. Parents can help the teen overcome these issues through therapy activities. These rejuvenating activities help teenagers be positive in life.
In this post, we have compiled some therapeutic activities to help your teen overcome socio-emotional and personality development issues.
Therapy Activities For Teenagers
There are several therapies that can be recommended to a teenager, depending on their needs. The commonly used therapies are individual, group, family, art, and music therapies.
Individual Therapy Activities For Teens
In individual therapy, a teen would identify their problems by discussing them with parents. This self-awareness will help your child to be communicative by discussing the issues and receiving feedback (1).
1. My life CD
Music helps individuals express their feelings, moods, thoughts, and beliefs. For a teenager, who is filled with emotions, this activity will work on creating self-awareness by identification and expression of feelings.
- The activity involves creating a music CD consisting of teen’s favorite songs and storing the disc in a jewel case.
- Let the teen choose his playlist of favorite songs based on a theme. Once the songs are chosen, use a computer to burn (write) the songs on the disc.
- Give your teen an empty jewel case, and let them beautify it by sticking glitter, tiny plastic reflectors, etc.
- Let the design of the jewel case match the theme of the music on the CD. So, if the theme of the music is “childhood,” then the jewel case’s design can represent the theme through bright colors.
- Once the jewel case is ready, let the teen store the CD in it.
- Listen to the songs and discuss the motivation behind each song’s selection in the playlist.
Some additional CD activities that you can try are “my greatest hits” (focusing on self-esteem) or “listen to my future” (focusing on goals). A combination of choosing songs and designing a jewel box can help the child vent their feelings through art and creativity.
2. My letter to me
Writing activities are a powerful tool to help teenagers come out with their feelings. It allows the expression of sensitive emotions that might be difficult to convey verbally. Such activities can help the teen gain a better perspective of their emotions while also building confidence and self-esteem.
- Ask your teenager to imagine themselves in the future as an adult.
- Ask them to write a letter from their future to their present self. What advice would they give to their current self?
- Guide the teen if they are not sure how to begin.
- Once done, ask your teen to read it aloud. In this process, guide them through the letter to help identify issues they are experiencing now and how they would like to feel about them in the future.
- If they like, they can decorate and frame the letter to use as a positive daily reminder.
3. Walk through the talk
Talking is a basic way of expressing feelings, thoughts, emotions, and beliefs. It allows a teen to be comfortable with you (or their therapist) and build a strong, trusting relationship.
- Rather than having a formal therapy session in your home or at a therapist’s office, take your teen for a walk. You can go around the neighborhood or walk in the park. It will elicit a more informal interaction.
- Strike a light conversation that talks about their days in school and their weekend plans.
- Once the teen seems to get comfortable with the talk, progress towards critical thoughts and concerns that you believe need discussion.
- Normalize their feelings and avoid asking too many questions. Often it is helpful for teenagers to be able to relate to who they are talking to. Try and use a relatable story from your childhood to engage the conversation.
- What are their plans for the future?
- Is there any issue that you as a parent should know to help them?
- As the teen begins to open up, ask them clarifying questions to make sure you understand what they are saying. Teenagers are moving into adulthood, therefore, it is important for them to begin to increase in their decision making. Provide them with advice, but make sure they do not feel as that they are being lectured.
Group Therapy Activities For Teens
Several teens slide into isolation and loneliness due to their emotional and social issues. Group therapy activities are designed to help them realize that they are not alone in facing these challenges. Besides, it helps them realize the value of emotional support that facilitates healing.
4. The fear cap
This simple activity is often used as an icebreaker and helps identify and recognize fears and negative thoughts. It also helps develop confidence, self-esteem, and trust in teens. The activity suits better with a group where members are familiar with each other.
- Ask all the teens to sit in random order with a pen/pencil and paper.
- Give each teen five minutes to write their deepest and darkest fears on paper.
- After five minutes, collect all the papers and place them in a cap.
- Each member will draw one paper, read it aloud, and guess who wrote it.
- It will help teens share their thoughts and complex emotions, like fear. Besides, they will also get to know each other better.
5. Mindful speaking
Mindful speaking is a great therapeutic activity that focuses on communication and mindfulness in participants. These two skills are essential for the management of emotions in teens.
- Make a group of teens sit in a circle.
- Inform the group about the rationale of the activity. Tell them that the activity is for developing mindful speaking by following three core principles of mindful speaking:
- slow down and bring yourself to the present moment
- analyze before speaking; emotionally and rationally
- reflect about the effects of what you said and how others felt about it
- Each teen will have to take turns to be the speaker, while the other members will listen.
- The speaker can pick any theme, such as their favorite holiday. The stipulated time for each speaker would be three minutes.
- Once everyone has finished talking, allow a reflective moment. You can discuss with all the teens about how they feel to speak mindfully compared to when they usually talk.
6. Spot the strength
This group activity aims to help teens identify and recognize psychological or character strengths in themselves and others. It even enables them to receive feedback about their strengths from others.
- Form a group with five to eight teens and make them sit in a circle.
- Ask them to share a positive story, one at a time. These stories could be any achievements or accomplishments in any domain of their life.
- The listeners make notes of the strengths they identify in the story.
- Once the story ends, ask all the group members to give feedback regarding the strengths observed.
- Each group member reads out the strengths that they identified in the story and the reason they chose it.
- Once every team member has shared their story, have a discussion where the teens share their feelings about the stories, their observation, and learning.
- This activity allows team members to know each other’s strengths and ways to inculcate them. Positive responses from each other will also help them heal.
7. Gratitude mapping
This engaging activity gives the teen a chance to be creative while expressing themselves. It provides them a chance to focus on positive emotions derived from positive aspects of life.
- Make groups with three to five teens each.
- Instruct all the groups to take five minutes to remember some good things that they are thankful for in their lives. Each group picks one set of three to five good things and reasons for gratitude.
- Ask each group to write these things on a whiteboard along with the reasons. Keep the whiteboard turned away from the remaining groups.
- Invite the next group to see what the previous group has written. Now, this step is about drawing connections between the ideas they can see.
- For example, if the previous group wrote that their favorite thing is their house, and the gratitude is love and care. The next group will have to write about things that remind them of love and care.
- The group then also writes their favorite five things, and the next group then maps the gratitude. Continue the activity until all groups have the chance to map gratitude and state their good things in life.
- Once all the group members have taken their turn, turn the whiteboard towards all of them and discuss:
- What is gratitude?
- Why do we feel gratitude?
- How is gratitude helpful in developing positive self-esteem?
This activity creates a list of all the good things in life and the associated gratitude. It can help each teen realize that there are so many wonderful things in life to feel happy about.
8. Two truths and a lie
This activity is great fun when group members are familiar with one another. The activity allows each member to share three things about themselves, of which two are true, and one is a lie. The other members need to separate the lie from the truths. This activity provides an opportunity to learn exciting things about each other.
- Give five minutes to the group members to sit and think about interesting aspects of their life.
- Then, give them three minutes to write down three things or facts from any aspect of their life. Two points are true, while the remaining one is a lie.
- Randomly select a group member and ask them to read their two truths and a lie. The other group members guess which two out of the three facts are true and which is not.
- Once all the members have finished, discuss the activity, and encourage positive social interaction between the teens.
Art Therapy Activities For Teens
Art therapy is a therapeutic combination of art and psychology that helps individuals overcome emotional or psychological challenges. These activities focus on developing self-awareness, exploring emotions, and addressing unresolved conflict or trauma. All these are important aspects to develop self-confidence and fine communication skills in an individual.
9. The postcard activity
This art therapy activity is a self-discovery exercise that can be used for individuals or groups. The activity helps teens express their negative feelings or conflicting opinion to someone without having to say it to them. It might help dissuade the fear to face communication among teens.
- Buy a postcard for each teen. You can also print a template of a postcard on a piece of paper.
- Distribute these postcards among teens and ask them to recapture a situation or person that they feel/felt anxious, angry, frustrated, sad, or upset about.
- Give the group some time to go into the flashback and think about:
- what happened and how it felt
- what they would like to tell the person about the experience and how it made them feel
- Ask the teens to draw their experience on the blank side of the postcard. Use the lined side to write what they wish they said.
- Tell them that they have the freedom to express what they felt or still feel about the experience.
- Once they complete drawing and writing, use what they drew and write to explore their emotions. Discuss with each of the participants about how they might begin to work towards a healing resolution.
10. Creative collage
It is an amusing and engaging therapeutic exercise. In this activity, teens create a visual representation of their core beliefs and values through their imagination and creativity. Realizing core values is important as it helps develop coping strategies that are vital to guard mental health.
- Ask the teens to focus on their core values. Explain it to them through examples of core values, such as taking the initiative, having fun, ensuring growth, etc. A core value can be anything they feel strongly about or what they feel good about.
- Once the teen understands the meaning of core value, ask them to focus and answer the following:
- What are the positive words that come to them when they focus on their core value?
- What are the images/colors and shapes they feel are associated with these words?
- Ask the teens to answer the above questions through a collage. They can select images, words, phrases, or colors from magazines and newspapers to compile a collage.
- You can allow the teens to present their collage to others and share their motivation behind it. It can encourage self-expression and instill confidence in the teen.
11. Alter the photo
This activity helps boost the self-esteem of teens by providing them innovative ways to self-express. When they alter the image, they are also venting out their emotions and alleviating their stress.
- Provide all the needed materials, like magazines, newspapers, cutters, scissors, glue, colors, pens, etc., to the teens. Teens can play it individually or in groups.
- Let each teen choose an image from the magazine, say an image of a cat. Then, let them use their imagination to modify the cat’s picture, say by giving it a cute smile or blue eyes. Allow the teens to let their emotions out without worrying about their artistic skills.
- Set a timeline for completion, say 15 minutes.
- The activity can be made more insightful by letting the teens discuss the altered image and the ideas behind alteration.
12. Creating sculptures
Sculpture-making is a fantastic addition to art therapy activities as it enables teens to express through constructive creativity. Besides, it helps in coping with stress, anxiety, and other external pressures.
- Provide the teens with all the necessary materials, like colored dough or clay, water, rolling pin, calipers, scrapers, frames, etc.
- Give them a time limit within which they have to prepare a sculpture. Let the teens be as creative and imaginative as they want.
- Once the activity is complete, let the teens discuss what they prepared and the motivation behind their creation.
- As the teens discuss their creation, they boost their self-confidence.
13. Paint the journal
Some teens have difficulty expressing themselves verbally. For them, writing a diary or journal is a way to express. But self-expression is not limited to words. Painting can also help them connect to their emotions and express them effectively. It will eventually boost their confidence and self-esteem.
- In this self-care activity, ask the teen to maintain a journal in which they can paint or draw illustrations that represent their feelings.
- They can draw or paint anything that they feel can help them express themselves better.
- You can assign an emotion, like happiness, fear, etc., and the teen can draw an illustration representing that emotion. Let the teen take their time to draw.
Music Therapy Activities For Adolescents
Research shows that therapy practitioners find music successful in helping troubled adolescents engage in the therapeutic process with minimum resistance (2). It happens because teens connect with music with relative ease. Music can be a medium for a teen to express their feelings, alleviate stress, and overcome isolation.
This activity facilitates the expression of emotions and provides an outlet for teens with depression. This activity can be performed individually or in groups.
- Provide your teen age-appropriate drumming instruments, like
- Ask them to close their eyes and vent out on the drum.
- You are likely to notice a rhythmic change in the drumming as the teen begins to vent out their emotions.
- The change in the rhythm is best felt when the activity is performed in a group.
15. Select your music
Select your music (commonly referred to as “music selection”) is an activity used for adolescents with difficulties in emotion management and self-regulation. The meditative practice helps teens develop self-awareness and acceptance.
- Ask the teen to select songs or pieces of music they like to hear the most. The selection can be based on a wide range of emotions that the teen wants to express.
- Once the music is selected, ask the teen to sit in a comfortable place and play the music through their phone or CD player.
- As they listen to music, they would get some memories associated with the music. It is an important part of the process that helps healing by letting the emotions flow.
- Once the music finishes, discuss the experience that the teen had. It will help them have realization and acceptance of some of their deep hidden issues.
16. Musical emotions
This music therapy activity works in a group setting and helps teenagers identify and express emotions. It also helps a teen understand the way another teen/individual could show the same emotion.
- Ask the teens to sit in a circle.
- Fill a cup with small pieces of paper with each paper containing the name of an emotion.
- Turn on the music, and the teens begin to pass the cup among them. When the music stops, the teen with the cup picks a chit and reads the emotion. The challenge is to act the emotion without getting up from the place or saying anything.
- While the teen acts, others guess the emotion. After the right guess, the paper is removed, and the cup is passed while the music is playing.
- When the music stops, the teen holding the cup picks the paper, reads the emotion, and enacts it.
- Once all the teens have taken their turn, discuss how to recognize emotion in others and what to do when you see someone expressing a particular emotion.
Songwriting helps a teen express their emotions constructively. It improves mental capabilities, such as self-regulation and positive social interaction.
- Guide a teen or a group of teens to write a song. The song can be based on any feeling that they want to express.
- Give them some time to write down the lyrics.
- Once the individual compositions are ready, you can ask the teens to sing the song. They can also play an instrument along.
- After each song, discuss the thoughts and feelings behind the inspiration of the lyrics and music composition. It will be helpful to highlight the emotions and feelings of the teen/s.
Family Therapy Activities For Teens
Family therapy (or family counseling) is a mode of treatment designed to address specific issues that affect the health and normal functioning of a family. Identifying these issues is crucial to understanding their impact on the teen. This therapy type can be used to pass through a difficult period/transition or help with mental and behavioral health problems among the teen’s family members.
18. My happiest memory
This engaging and joyful activity enables a teen to focus on their positive memories of the time spent with their family. Remembering such memories can help a teen to stay positive. This activity also gives each family member a chance to know the different perspectives associated with the same memory/incident.
- The family sits together at the dining table or in a circle on the floor.
- The teen talks about the happiest moments that they have experienced with their family.
- Here the task is to recreate the memory by actions that could project the emotions. So, the teen will present the memory and feeling associated with it through acting.
- Each family member then shares their memory associated with the incident. They must share their memories through acting, too.
- After the activity, family members can discuss how a similar incident could impact different individuals in different ways.
This activity allows the teen to open up and share any differences affecting their positive relationship with the family.
19. Candy go around
This fun and engaging activity supports interaction among teen and their family members.
- You will need a packet of M&Ms or a similar colorful candy.
- Randomly distribute seven pieces of these candies to each family member, and ask them to sort the candies by color.
- The teen tells the number of candies of each color.
- Each color is associated with a topic, and the teen needs to provide responses that correspond to the number of candies of that color. For instance, if the teen has two orange candies, they provide two responses for the topic associated with the orange color. Below is the list of topics/questions associated with each color.
- Red – words that best describe your family
- Green – ways/methods your family has fun together
- Purple – things your family needs to improve on
- Yellow – things that worry you
- Orange – things that make you happy
- Once the teen is done with his/her responses, ask them to pick another family member to answer the same questions based on the number of candies of the same color.
- Once all the family members had their turns, initiate a healthy discussion based on the answers given. Focus on the teen’s responses to understand the issues they are facing and what aspects of the family are responsible for it.
- Some of the questions that family members could ask the teen are:
- What was the most surprising thing you learned about other family members?
- How should you work towards making changes/improvements as suggested by the family?
A genogram is a symbolic, simplified, yet detailed graphic representation of a teen’s family in generations. It can be used to represent a teen’s relationship with each family member and vice-versa. This technique could be used to manage emotional relationships and identify the strengths and weaknesses the family shares.
- This activity creates a simplified version of the genogram so that it is easy to interpret. Begin the activity by providing a pen, paper, and a red, blue, and green sketch pen to each participant.
- Assign a shape to each family member. For instance, the teen takes a circle, his/her brother takes a square, and so on.
- Each member draws their shape on one side of the page while drawing the other shapes, representing other family members, on the right side of the page in a column.
- Now, assign a code, which is a different type of line of a different color, to define a particular relationship. For instance:
- One green line = Friendly
- Two green lines = Close and harmonious
- One red line = Unfriendly
- Two red lines = Hostile
- One blue line = Manipulative
- Two blue lines = Apathy and lack of concern
You can add as many color codes you like based on how complex you want the activity to be.
- Each family member draws the lines between their shape and the shapes of their family member. The lines are drawn based on how they believe the other family member treats them.
- Once each family member is done drawing the genogram, reveal it to each other. Sit and discuss the reason for someone to give a specific code.
Therapy activities are an essential tool to help a teen overcome socio-emotional barriers that might be impacting their mental health. In this process, you, as a parent, can be a pillar of strength and support them. You can guide your teen through therapy activities and ensure that you help them overcome social, emotional, and behavioral issues. Do not hesitate to consult a therapist in case you feel that your teen needs some more help.
2. Alexander W Keen; Using Music as a Therapy Tool to Motivate Troubled Adolescents; NCBI
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