A recent survey conducted by the American Psychological Association found that teens are reporting adult levels of stress due to chronic sleep deprivation and increased academic pressure. Technology, not surprisingly also plays a key role in creating stress for our adolescents and children, who are “wired and tired.”
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. There are many mindfulness practices out there geared toward adults and children. However, one major technique that is used is meditation. Meditation starts with being aware of our body. This act alone can be calming, since our body has internal rhythms that help it relax if we give it a chance. All it takes is sitting in a quiet area, closing our eyes, and tuning in to our breathe, which can be more difficult than you think!
How does Mindfulness/Meditation Impact our Kids’ Bodies and Brains?
Incorporating mindfulness practices and meditation into our day can help our children and adolescents quiet their minds and bodies, and decrease the negative flow of cortisol in their bodies. Taking 5 minutes each day, perhaps at the beginning and/or end of the day, can improve focus, improve test scores, boosted immune systems and lower blood pressure. There is literature that even suggests that meditation can rewire key areas of the brain that are associated with stress, self-awareness and compassion.
Since teenagers have shorter attention spans than adults, we can engage them with playful activities, such as hiking or music.
Guided meditations are very helpful for children and teens because it fully engages the child while allowing them to calm the mind. Here are a few apps that can help with that!
Mindful coloring books can be found anywhere and have become a huge hit in the classrooms for a quick sensory break.
Children benefit from deep breathing exercises, especially those who become highly anxious or stressed. One exercise is called “Darth Vader” breathing. The child will lightly cover their mouth with their hands and take deep breaths in and out making the Darth Vader noise. This will help the child to slow down their breathing and relax.
Another fun activity is called “Spidey Senses” which helps your child become in touch with their senses and become grounded in stressful situations. Instruct your kids to turn on their “Spidey Senses”, the super-focused senses of smell, sight, hearing, taste, and touch that Spiderman uses to keep tabs on the world around him. Have them observe their surroundings by focusing on one sense at a time – e.g. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you feel under your feet? What do you taste?
For teens and children, mindfulness and meditation teaches them how to more effectively deal with change, stress, disappointments and overwhelming emotions. The teenage brain undergoes important transformations. Meditation can lay the groundwork for a lifetime of improved resilience and focus. Mindfulness and meditation can help children and teenagers turn inward and experience a sense of self control, and become in-touch with their thoughts and feelings. Once a child is able to respond to their personal thoughts and feelings, they can cultivate a sense of emotional intelligence and learn how to connect with people in more meaningful ways for the adult years that follow.
Harris, D. (n.d.). Meditation Becoming More Popular Amongst Teens. In Good Morning America.
Mundasad, S. (2015, April 21). Depression: ‘Mindfulness-based therapy shows promise’. In BBC News.
Pfaff, L. (n.d.). The Mindfulness Revolution. In New Jersey Monthly . Retrieved January 10, 2017.