Updated: Sep 6, 2019
Teenagers are stressed; that’s no secret. In fact, stress levels have been climbing for years due to greater peer pressure, increased stimulation, and rising expectations, of which greater access to social media is likely one of the biggest culprits. A poll by the American Psychological Association found that teenage stress rivals levels of adult stress and even reportedly tops adult stress at times. And with stress can come sadness, depression, and the feeling of being overwhelmed.
This may not come as a surprise if you think back on your teen years, but do you recall managing your stress in a healthy way? Unfortunately… probably not. What if there were free, accessible, simple tools to help teens manage their stress levels each day? Sounds too good to be true? Thankfully, it’s not. Meditation and mindfulness are slowly making their way into schools as an option where proactive parents, teachers, and administrators are taking a chance on these age-old tools to support their students.
While it may seem too difficult to get teens away from their smartphones and iPads long enough to get interested in focusing on the here, the now, their breath, their senses, and their feelings, there are some tricks of the trade to help make it possible:
Make It Matter
These days everyone is busy, and almost no one will accept a new responsibility without first understanding… “what’s in it for me?” We know that mindfulness can be an effective way to boost self-confidence and reduce stress, but how can we prove it to teenagers? Ask them to try a mindfulness exercise (pause, breathe, notice feelings, suspend judgement, focus on “the now”) for one week and get their feedback on how it made them feel. Make it a game, and make it matter. Get their buy-in by letting them tell you “what’s in it for them”, and once they can see it for themselves, they can share it with their friends. Better yet… make it a challenge.
Believe it or not, reverse psychology can be an effective and even fun way to introduce mindfulness to teens. Challenge them to take one minute of every hour or every class to pause, breathe, and consciously observe the situation they’re in. Whether that means taking pleasure in noticing that it’s a beautiful day outside or even smiling at the fact that they had some good conversations with their friends that day, even the small things are worth mentioning when it comes to shifting a stressful mindset to a thoughtful, positive one.
It can also be fun to challenge them to some “green time”. Turning off the phone and walking outside (better yet walking barefoot outside!) can do wonders for the mind and body. Even if walking barefoot is not an option, challenge them to get outside and breathe in the fresh air for at least fifteen minutes a day. If turning off the phone is not in the cards, you can ask them to take a picture or short video of themselves enjoying a walk in nature.
Another fun idea is to challenge them to bring mindfulness into everyday activities like doing their homework or walking to the bus. Ask them to notice their breath and notice how they feel, while postponing judgement.
They can even be challenged to seek new and unique opportunities to be mindful and then share details with you at the end of the day. But the conversation needs to be two-sided. Your dedication to mindfulness can provide a good example for your teen, so you need to be up to the challenge as well.
Set a Good Example
“Do as I say and not as I do” won’t work with this one. If you don’t make mindfulness part of your daily routine, how can you expect others to do the same? Showing your teen how and when you build mindfulness into your day can build trust in your teen that you have seen the positive benefits of mindfulness and use it every day to help manage your own stress. Share success stories with them about how mindfulness helped you in tough situations, and offer examples of exercises you’ve used that they can take into their day.
With a fun, positive introduction and a friendly challenge, teenagers can get excited about mindfulness and start to reap the benefits that will help them each day and throughout their lives.
The following articles regarding teen mindfulness may also be of interest to those seeking more information:
Bethune, Sophie. “Teen Stress Rivals that of Adults”. American Psychological Association. April 2014.
Dzung, Vo. www.MindfulnessForTeens.com.
Ruddell Beach, Sarah. “Mindfulness for Teens.” www.LeftBrainBuddha.com.
Ruddell Beach, Sarah. “Teaching Mindfulness to Teenagers: 5 Ways to Get Started.” Huffpost.com. August 21, 2014.