CBT provides practical tools and strategies for managing emotions and thoughts. CBT activities for teens can teach them how to cope with negative thoughts, regulate their emotions, and respond to challenging situations in a healthy way.
For most people, the teen years are full of self-doubt, uncertainty, and peer pressure. It’s a normal and very difficult stage of life, and one of the most important parts of it is developing a positive sense of self.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps teens learn to see themselves in a more realistic light. And because there’s often judgment and stress coming at them from all directions, that can be a challenging task.
That’s why many learning and mental health experts recommend keeping therapeutic activities creative, interesting, and interactive. With that in mind, here are some CBT activities for teens that may be helpful both in and out of therapy.
Try These Simple CBT Activities for Teens
CBT is all about looking at yourself and your situation differently. While some teens like to sit and talk through problems, for others, that’s too intense. Collaging can be a way to add a visual element while taking the pressure off.
The most traditional way to collage is to start with a group of old magazines that include words and images you can tear out. One method is to rely on intuition by choosing words and visuals that pop out at you.
Or, you can follow a specific topic or prompt. Example collage assignments that align with CBT activities for teens might include:
- Represent a positive attribute about yourself
- Show your most important values (family, success, creativity, etc.)
- Challenge a negative thing you think about yourself, showing the negative thought and a new more positive viewpoint
The most important thing about creating a collage is to be flexible. The final piece doesn’t need to be evaluated or even explained. It can speak for itself.
Coping skills books
Even adults find it difficult to remember how to cope in the moment. Creating a physical reminder may be helpful for teens. To create a coping skills book, you can start with a small notebook or simply use index cards attached together with a stapler or keyring.
In a coping skills book, each page represents something that the teen finds helpful. It might include a regular practice like exercise or a specific step such as walking away to avoid a fight. Other examples could include talking to a friend, hugging a blanket, or playing with a pet.
The book can include written words, collages, drawings, or any other depiction the person finds helpful. The book itself is a coping tool, but the process of making it is just as important.
Board games are one of the most interactive activities available. They can take the awkwardness out of face-to-face interactions, especially in unfamiliar situations like getting to know new people.
To incorporate CBT into the activity, add discussion prompts. This can work with almost any game, ranging from Jenga to Monopoly. For example, before buying a property in Monopoly someone must answer a prompt such as, “Tell us about a hobby you enjoy.”
Once you get past easier prompts, you can add new challenges. You might require an answer to a prompt each time someone pulls out a block in Jenga. (Check out these fun games that boost self-esteem.)
Here’s an example:
For Mathew to complete his turn, he must answer a basic question from CBT such as “Give an example of a thought versus a feeling.” Even if he’s not sure of the answer, it can be a great teachable moment.
Processing doesn’t always have to involve sitting down and talking one-on-one. In fact, many CBT therapies incorporate creative arts such as music for kids and teens. For example, if a teen is dealing with a past trauma, they might choose notes on a piano or guitar that represent their feelings.
The creative activity itself is often therapeutic, and if needed, it can be processed later. Here are some other ideas for how musical activities can be included with CBT activities for teens.
- Choose a song that represents a current feeling and talk about it or just listen
- Write song lyrics that tell a story about yourself
- Create a playlist that shows your thoughts about a situation
In some cases, the songs might bring out negative thoughts or feelings, and that’s a good thing because it helps identify them. That’s the first step in changing and healing patterns of thought.
Journaling is another helpful CBT activity for teens. Writing about thoughts, feelings, and situations is one of the best ways to work through them. Often negative beliefs about ourselves or others go unchallenged.
Teens might find journaling in private to be most helpful. Others may wish to talk through excerpts of their writing with others. To make it even more CBT, teens can include two sections of a journal.
One might include venting to blow off steam and work through difficult emotions. Another section might include savoring positive things that happened during the day, such as meeting a goal or using a coping skill. This helps adolescents learn to see life in a more balanced and ultimately positive way.
This list is just the beginning of potential CBT activities for teens. Although it may have a reputation as a talk therapy, it’s much more than that. Cognitive behavioral skills can also be learned and reinforced through everyday interactions and creativity.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2023). Children’s Mental Health, Behavior Therapy.