When we think of mindfulness, we may not think of children especially teenagers. Mindfulness seems to be for adults in their busy lifestyles, stressed out and juggling their multiple lifes.
But a growing body of evidence suggests that mindfulness practice could be beneficial to teens. It helping them cultivate empathy besides building concentration and handling stress.
In short, mindfulness can help adolescents navigate the challenges of adolescence.
As parents or teachers, we can introduce young people to the practice of mindfulness, or purposeful, nonjudgmental awareness. It is a lot of hard work to convince a teen to disconnect from their digital lifestyle and delve into mindfulness.
So let’s start with square one: getting “buy-in” when teaching mindfulness to teens.
1. Model Mindfulness
We can’t show adolescents the benefits of a mindfulness practice without modeling it ourselves. Through our ability to respond rather than react, we can inculcate a sense of mindfulness in our children.
The other day, my daughter quipped at me rushing out, "Mumma, take a deep breath. You are always so peaceful. How come today you are rushing so much. Just take a deep breath and be in the moment".
If we want our children to take mindfulness seriously, they need to see it in action. They need to see us paying attention and handling challenges skillfully.
2. What’s in it for Them?
Teenagers may see mindfulness as completely unrelated to their busy and connected lives. Here are a few research findings that you could share with them:
Studies show that students who meditate before an exam perform better than students who do not
Mindfulness practice can improve concentration
Mindfulness-based interventions have been demonstrated to reduce the symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression (three things I see all too frequently in my students)
3. Teach Teens About Their Brain
Adolescents are fascinated about how their brains work. We can teach teens how mindfulness instruction is like getting the owner’s manual for their brain. There are a number of talks on the structure of the brain.
Focus on the three structures of the brain: the brainstem (our “reptilian” brain, responsible for breathing, heart-rate, etc.), the limbic system/amygdala (our “mammalian” brain, involved in emotion and memory) and the cortex (our “human” brain, responsible for thinking and self-regulation).
The hand model reveals how close the amygdala is to the pre-frontal cortex, and how mindfulness can help the thinking part of the brain process the raw emotion of the limbic system.
We can teach teens that mindfulness is a form of training for their brains: meditation has actually been shown to increase gray matter in the portion of the brain responsible for self-awareness and compassion. Mindfulness can play a role in the neuroplasticity of the brain — our experiences can actually transform our brains, the way exercise can transform our bodies.
When we practice mindfulness, we learn that much of the chatter of the mind is just that: chatter. It’s not reality — it’s worry, it’s anxiety, it’s baseless projection. Mindfulness teaches teenagers to be aware of their thoughts, perhaps simply labeling them as “worrying.” They can acknowledge anxiety, without getting
caught up in the negative thoughts it generates.
Adolescents can discover that there are ways to approach the mind skillfully. This is often eye-opening and interesting for them.