Mindfulness for Teenagers

It goes without saying that adolescence is a time of physiological and emotional upheaval.  Emerging from the cocoon of childhood in a tumult of hormones, physical developments and emotions, teenagers try and forge their own place, their own identity and to do so whilst trying to manage the expectations and opinions of their family, friends, and wider peer groups. Add to that the omnipresent reality of homework and exams, demanding extracurriculars, and impending decisions about their future and it is easy to see how these very real pressures can increase stress and anxiety.

Luckily, there is increasing awareness of the pressures faced by teenagers, and the need to help guide them in dealing with the emotional realities of adolescence. Within mindfulness there are courses and school-based programmes specifically aimed at teenagers. These have provided a foundation for the growing research interest in the field, which is indeed showing positive results. One study showed that group mindfulness practice for teenagers resulted in “significant improvements in anxiety, internalising stress and attention”.

Another research paper looking at mindfulness and self-compassion highlights how a course not only has the “potential to decrease stress”, but to also boost positive aspects of behaviour, such as “increasing resilience and positive risk taking”.

Mindfulness, as the research indicates, can offer tools and attitudes that help navigate the uneven terrain of adolescence. Stress, anxiety and pressure are part of a teenagers’ reality, but they do not have to be debilitating. Through mindfulness, they can develop awareness, resilience and the emotional intelligence needed to skillfully cope with the pressures of their academic and social lives.

One of the missing pieces is how to give teenagers access to mindfulness programmes outside of school-based programmes, as these are not yet widely available. One of the best ways is to practice and embody it as a parent. Be a living demonstration of the ability to respond rather than react at times of difficulty and stress. By seeing how a calm, even demeanour leads to less emotional upheaval, the benefits of mindfulness are passed on almost by osmosis.

But this might not be enough on its own. Teenagers are known to rebel against anything their parents do or suggest, so they might dismiss your actions. Or perhaps they simply do not pay attention to your good example. Therefore, getting them to practice mindfulness themselves might require other in-roads.

One way is to use the technology that is (quite literally) at their fingertips. Smartphones are now central to the lives of teenagers and these devices can be utilised to help them engage with mindfulness.

There are apps they can use. Headspace has a version of their app for younger children, three different age ranges going up to 12, while “Stop, Breathe, Think” and “Smiling Mind” have been developed to make mindfulness accessible for teens.  Youtube too has a wealth of videos aimed at engaging teenagers with mindfulness and the cultivation of wellbeing, helping make it relevant to them.

The one thing these technological routes into mindfulness cannot offer though is the teacher led experience. Mindfulness practice raises many avenues to explore and there is a need to find a qualified and experienced teacher who can skillfully guide practitioners.

There are some options available. There are some family and child therapists who offer mindfulness for teenagers, or perhaps a dipping the toe in the water approach, attending a workshop may be the perfect way to get teenagers into mindfulness in a relaxed and informal way?

Even if teenagers only grudgingly participate at first -- they will thank you later. It seems safe to say that everyone who comes to mindfulness wishes they had only found it sooner.


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