While every generation faces a unique set of stressors, today’s teens can feel pulled in all directions, juggling school, work, activities, friends, social media—and those roller-coaster hormones.
One simple, highly effective way to alleviate adolescent angst? Practicing mindfulness in the classroom and at home. A recent study conducted in Belgium followed 400 students aged 13 to 20 over a six-month period. Meditation devotees won’t be surprised to learn that teens receiving mindfulness instruction were significantly less likely to report symptoms of depression. Moreover, the students were still seeing benefits months after the initial training.
Think your teen could benefit from a mindful meditation and attentiveness practice? Start with these basic guidelines—no formal training required.
The simplest way to be more mindful is to monitor your breath, says Ellen McCarty, a mindfulness instructor in the San Francisco Bay Area. She suggests that teens begin with a slowed-breathing practice rather than diving right in to a formal meditation program. “In the same way that yoga is a spiritual or physical practice, teens can benefit from the physical aspects of mindfulness long before they need to make decisions about dogma,” she says.
Participation Not Required
You can’t compel consciousness. McCarty warns that, much like forcing a child to attend church, dictating a particular spiritual practice can backfire. “If an adult is too eager to give the gift of mindfulness, sometimes it can trigger a rebellion response,” she says. If your child isn’t ready, don’t take it personally. “You don’t want your teen to feel that this is something he has to do,” she says.
Modeling (and Monitoring) Everyday Mindfulness
Monitoring how you cope with life’s ups and downs can help you set a healthy example for your child. Susan Stiffelman, a marriage and family therapist and the author of Parenting without Power Struggles, suggests reflecting on your reactions to stress as a guide for modeling healthy behavior. “How do you sit at a traffic light?” she asks. “How do you handle the news if your work contract isn’t renewed?”
“Actual meditation involves facing unpleasant sensations,” McCarty says, noting that young people can learn a lot about their self-identity and vulnerability from how they react to a crisis. Stiffelman recommends inviting your child to be present without trying to fix it or make it better. Try asking grounding questions like, “Where do you feel the anger in your body?” and acknowledging that discomfort together.
Think of mindfulness as a type of psychological insurance. “It teaches teens how to evaluate their choices independently and to pay attention to how their choices affect themselves and others,” McCarty explains. “It’s very easy as a young person to be swept away by the strong opinions of others. Mindfulness provides teens with a means to pause the decision-making process so that it becomes less impulsive.” Feeling in control of one’s actions is a powerful skill to cultivate early, one that can help youngsters feel empowered in the choices they make today and in the years to come.
Is your teen ready for deeper reflection? The nonprofit organization Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (iBme.info) offers weeklong residential and wilderness retreats in cities including Boston, Washington, and Los Angeles. Retreats help cultivate mindfulness through guided meditation and teach authentic communication skills through small-group discussions.