Mindfulness in teens has many benefits. It can help their focus and concentration, which can help with academic performance, it can improve empathy and social skills and even help manage stress and control impulses. Yet teens may resist efforts to introduce them to mindfulness. They may think that it is yet another adult attempt to tell them what to do and let’s face it, that’s the last thing any teen wants. So how can you introduce teens to this highly beneficial practice? Here’s a few tips from my experience teaching mindfulness to teens in our clinic:
Teach them the neuroscience behind it – you may think that the last thing a teen wants is more education but this is not so. I’m always amazed by the response I get from teens when I go into my mini neuroscience lesson. Teens who seem quite skeptical at first are quite intrigued by how their brains work. I think they appreciate the respect that they are shown when one explains principles to them rather than simply giving them instructions. Explain to the teen that our emotions are triggered by the Amgydala while rational thinking takes place in our prefrontal cortex. When the Amygdala mistakenly thinks we are at risk it hijacks the prefrontal cortex, which we need if we are to think effectively and rationally. Mindfulness helps kick the prefrontal cortex back into action, which helps us think rationally and effectively.
Invite them to try it out – tell them the science behind it and then invite them to test it out for themselves and see if it works for them. Encourage them to try it out each day for a week and reflect on their experience. Encourage them to be their own scientist, experiment with the practice and then decide for themselves if it is something they want to continue or not.
Make it simple and practical – Teenagers probably don’t want to spend half an hour sitting on a mat and meditating, teaching them to do everyday tasks mindfully is likely to be a more practical option for them ,as it is for us. My favourite is the 5 senses exercise as you can apply it to any everyday activity and it doesn’t require you to take time out of your life to do it. This exercise simply involves using all 5 of your senses to focus on whatever you are doing. For example, while walking to or from the bus you can notice 5 things you can see, then 5 things you can hear, 5 things you can feel in contact with your body and anything you can smell or taste.
The teenage years have their challenges but teens also have great capacity to learn and this is a time of significant brain development. Teaching teens practical life skills such as mindfulness gives them simple strategies they can use to help navigate the ups and downs of adolescence and adulthood.
For more articles on adolescent mental health look here.