While staying smart and active through summer is important for families, so is the power of play.

Recent studies covering 7 million people, teens to adults, cite that twice as many high school students are seeking help for mental health issues than in the 1980s, and children are increasingly being diagnosed with higher levels of ADHD. While most of us are aware that stress levels are at a high for adults, they’re also at a high for kids. In a growing trend, some psychologists and experts now identify the importance of making more time for play in our lives to improve brain development, decrease stress levels and boost general health.

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How to start playing for purpose:

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  1. Let kids play on their own, free of intervention. Since 1955, free play [in schools] has declined. Free play boosts creativity, confidence, connection and problem-solving skills with peers and parents. Katie Hurley, family therapist and author of “The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World,” urges parents to resist turning down a child’s invitation to play. “Play is as important to children and water and sleep. It’s how they connect and communicate. Never turn down an invitation to play, because that’s when your connection with your child will be lost.”
  1. Aim for 20 minutes of play for yourself, per day. Play boosts endorphins and can contribute to stress relief and better overall health. Meredith Sinclair, educator and author of the new book “Well Played: The Ultimate Guide to Awakening Your Family’s Playful Spirit” suggests small spurts of activity throughout the day, including freeze-dance with your kids, a word game during breakfast, doodling to-do lists (instead of writing them with words) and more.
  1. Get your spouse and friends involved. “The best way to connect with our mates is by tapping into each other’s uninhibited, ego-free, joy-producing, playful spirits,” Sinclair additionally points out. “Play encourages happy, stress-free communication, which in turn breeds deeper connection.” How to get out of the rut of dinner or lunch and movie? Opt for out-of-the-box activities around town. New Los Angeles-based CityMoms app offers ideas and lists for alternative family fun happening in your area.

More Southern California-based resources to inspire play with your family include Red Tricycle, MomCoApp and LA Parent. For once-in-a-lifetime, elite fun with your spouse and/or friends, check out IfOnly.

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Jill Simonian is a Parenting Lifestyle Contributor, appearing on CBS Los Angeles every Wednesday on News at 5pm and Friday mornings at 6:30am. Her personal blog is TheFabMom.com. Follow Jill on Twitter @jillsimonian and connect with her on Facebook.