Why Rest is so Challenging for Children and Teenagers – Dr Andrew W

One of the most important rhythms of life is work and rest


From Luke’s Journal 2022 | Rest | Vol.27 No.1

Photo by Alex Guillaume on Unsplash

The last two years in the pandemic have thrown a number of challenges to families, including how we ‘do’ rest. The upheaval around schools stopping and starting, parents staying at home from work, and limited contact with family and friends has disrupted our normal pattern and rhythm of life. One of the most important rhythms for our life is work and rest. 

Practising as a Clinical Psychologist I have found myself a curious observer in how each family I support responds to rest with a change of study and work rhythms through the pandemic. Some families have told me it has been difficult to adjust, and that the old rules don’t apply when it comes to rest and work for children and teens. Others say their experience with online learning has been so positive that they can’t see a way back to the usual ho-hum of life. 

“Rest functions to help us recharge our bodies and minds from work, to enjoy God’s creation, get perspective, and put work in its proper place.”

What is intriguing is how our concept of what rest is, and should be, has become increasingly confused with our desire and demand for entertainment. I have rarely encountered a family that could say their child spent less time in front of a screen during the last two years. Most would say screen time has increased; many would say by some margin. Part of the difficulty in separating our work and rest is that we use the same tools (screens) for both! This is one challenge among many for families looking to understand how to best use rest and recreation time for their children. 

Defining rest isn’t complicated to understand. Rest functions to help us recharge our bodies and minds from work, to enjoy God’s creation, get perspective, and put work in its proper place. It is God ordained from the beginning of creation, when God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh (Gen 2:2-3). God’s good idea and model isn’t just for some, it is for all and without a pattern of work and rest, chaos soon takes hold. 

How can we understand the challenges with rest for children and teenagers? 

It can be helpful to look at the principles at play. First, just as God modelled what work and rest should look like, so parents model rest to children. In fact, our model of work and rest is likely to be imprinted, modelled and implemented in our decision making as we navigate rest for our children (Prov 22:6; Prov 29:15). The old adage “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” can be very true of parents and children with work and rest rhythms. When work and rest rhythms are not ‘in sync’ it can lead to a myriad of issues, and potentially anxiety and depression.

Take, for example, the classic complaint by a child, “I’m bored, I want to watch TV.” As a parent you can easily be tempted to give in to this complaint regularly. Why? In part because it seems to make life easier for us! We can focus more on what we want to do. Children are very watchful and aware of how a parent decides to work and rest. Children also very easily pick up on our habits, so when they see us spend excess time on screens they can also feel entitled to the same access. The same can be said for other habits, for example, the way we eat, activities we enjoy or the way we talk. Albert Bandura, a famous social psychologist, demonstrated the profound impact of children’s ability to mirror adult behaviours through observation and imitation, even to the point of aggression.

So, in approaching what rest looks like for our child and teenagers, we need to ask ourselves first how rest looks for us. Can we overindulge in entertainment? Are we too involved in our work to spend time with our children? How do we set our priorities balancing work and rest?

Photo by Simon Maage on Unsplash

Another area to consider is whether we buy into what society determines as rest or stand firm on embedding a culture in our own family that offers a different perspective on rest. It can be very easy to go along with trying to please each of our child’s whims. You might often hear the catchcry, “Because [insert name] does this, I want to do that.” Yet, rather than giving a simple yes or no response, it can be much more valuable to pause and notice what the driver behind the statement is.

A child’s perspective is usually more black and white than ours; sometimes they just have to have something, no questions asked! This tells us they don’t have the same nuance or wisdom about a situation as an adult because their brains are still developing. Yet, just like us, they want to be ‘self-appointed sovereigns.’1 ‘Gaining wisdom’ for children means they will need to learn to hear and follow our decisions for their good, particularly in learning the importance of authority (Exod 20:12; Prov 22:15).

Teaching wisdom as a parent also means listening to your children and discerning what they really need; not just giving children what they want, or refusing to give them anything they do want.

Learning to give in to peer pressure can put children on a difficult path to navigate normal peer pressures, eg. temptation to abuse alcohol and other drugs; or push boundaries in sexual relationships.”

Learning to give in to peer pressure can put children on a difficult path to navigate normal peer pressures, eg. temptation to abuse alcohol and other drugs; or push boundaries in sexual relationships. Demands or requests from children to do something “because X does” invites parents in, giving them a window of opportunity to see what their child is really desiring and what they feel passionate about. Is their desire focused on fitting in and being accepted by others, or could it genuinely help them grow in friendship with their peers? Would you be confident this opportunity will grow relationships in a God-honouring way for them or lead them away from the truth and from friends who make wise choices? 

Possibly one of the biggest barriers and challenges to rest in our world today is the temptation to “do” rest solely as an individual. We can start to genuinely believe that rest is found primarily in our autonomous desires. Rest is used as a tool in our society to define our identity and show others who we think we are. However, it is a God-given pattern for rest to also be found in family, friends and healthy activities. In the end, none of these areas function well as the ultimate place for rest. Jesus shows us that true rest is ultimately found in him (Matt 11:28-30).

Photo by Habib Dadkhah on Unsplash

As children become teenagers, they will lean towards finding rest with friends and may believe they will find ultimate rest and identity in their peers. Parents can feel their role is limited, yet this couldn’t be further from the truth. 

While parental guidance and protection in teenage years does change as the child grows towards adulthood, influence persists when families continue to rest and have fun together. Whether it’s sharing terrible dad jokes, sitting together for dinner, camping trips, watching basketball or soccer games, resting together grows relationships and buffers against the risk of mental health issues. More importantly, it shows and encourages children to value other-centredness in rest. This characteristic is a marker of growing maturity in faith. 

Overcoming challenges through connecting in conversation

So often we think: “I need some tips and strategies to get started, so what can I put in my toolbox?” That’s a common experience – part of our desire in finding solutions is to problem solve where it could improve. Often it can be more useful to consider how a humble conversation between the parent and child might look. It might be as simple as the parent saying, “I just want to find some quiet time with you; your dad and I are keen to hear some more about what you enjoy and what you want to do. Let’s catch up and talk about it.” When a child or teenager presents a demand or request for rest, instead of becoming defensive and shutting down why that might not happen (if you don’t like the idea), this could be an opportunity to learn more about why they want to do that.

 If they are persistent about a particular activity, for example, video gaming or frequently seeing a particular group of friends it might be useful to help them think through the consequences and outcomes of choosing that one activity over every other.

Create a pros and cons list, or ask them to consider how others in the family might feel if you committed all the time in the family to helping them do what they want. Where possible, it is particularly important with teenagers to work towards a place where you can both agree on an outcome. Negotiating that autonomy can be difficult, but when teenagers feel respected by their parents it is quite possible to agree together. This builds trust and creates opportunities for them to come more confidently to their parents both in the good times and in the difficult times when they most need a parent to speak with.2 

Our world has presented many new challenges in how we rest. While the role and influence of parenting is under pressure from our changing world, the importance of a parent’s role has not changed. Parents should take heart that their effort is not in vain (Prov 29:17). Those parents that desire to be faithful ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor 5:20) can stand in confidence that One far greater than them is working through every moment, rhythm and season of their child’s life. 

Dr Andrew W
Dr Andrew W is a Clinical Psychologist in NSW. He is passionate about seeing God’s purpose and design in family relationships lived out. Andrew has previously worked across health and non-government agencies until he and his wife began and continue to work in a private psychology practice for children, young people and families.

Would you like to contribute content to Luke’s Journal?  Find out more…


  1. Tripp P. Parenting. Wheaton (US): Crossway Books; 2016.
  2. Diamond G, Diamond G, Levy S. Attachment-Based Family Therapy for Depressed Adolescents. Washington DC (US): American Psychological Association; 2013.