8 Ways Meditation Can Help Teens Navigate Adolescence
and How To Get Them Involved…..
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- Achieving better results and improving focus
Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can result in higher test scores and improve teen’s attention span. A study from the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) demonstrated how just two weeks of mindfulness training improved students reading comprehension scores as well as their working memory.
- Reducing anxiety and stress by promoting presence
Teens have a lot going on in school. Social pressures, demands of school life, parents expectations and many other influencing factors can lead to high levels of stress and struggle for teens. They get caught in a cycle of trying to please many different people and doing as well as they can in many different areas of life. Mindfulness teaches them to live in the present moment and let go of self-criticism over past mistakes and anxiety over their future.
- Changing the brain for the better
Harvard studies have shown that meditation can boost the brain’s grey matter growth. Important functions that are affected include muscle control, memory, emotions, speech, decision-making and self control. As anyone who has been a teenager can confirm that these are areas some of us had real difficulty with.
- Decreasing chances of risky and impulsive behaviour
Through our teen years, we are often exposed to many opportunities in which to make decisions that we may not feel so proud of later on- some of which have the potential to change our lives forever. Having a regular mindfulness meditation practice can reduce impulsivity, by giving them the tools necessary to pause and break their habitual automatic reactions. By drawing on their own inner resource for strength, they can perceive situations more clearly and make better decisions in the moment.
- Providing the ability to regulate the effect of life circumstances on mental well-being
Practicing regular mindfulness meditation can provide a sort of ‘mental armor’. When teens are in high-stress situations (if you remember high school, you will remember it was a permanently high-stress situation), it degrades their ability to be discerning. This enables them to see situations as they really are without making assumptions, and then have greater control over what they allow to impact them and their internal sense of strength, creating a very natural and powerful resilience within them. It allows teens to experience being an impartial witness to their own experiences, without the need to judge and draw early conclusions.
- Enabling greater control over mood
Studies from several different research centers showed that engaging in 8-week mindfulness training programs resulted in changes in the response of the amygdala- the part of the brain that is responsible for our emotions. It affects emotional processing in the brain even outside of the meditative state. Results of the studies demonstrated that mindfulness meditation can actually improve emotional stability and stress responses.
- Increasing forgiveness and compassion
While mindfulness meditation was shown to reduce activity in the amygdala over time, and therefore create increased emotional stability, a group in the same study that were trained in compassion meditation (loving-kindness), first showed decreased amygdala activity, and then over time developed increased amygdala activity when shown images of human suffering. This increased capacity for compassion for other humans could greatly improve life in middle and high school- it’s a tough place to be! If we think back to all the arguments with friends and the potential for bullying and damaging behaviour towards others, we could possibly all agree that anything that increases empathy for other’s feelings must be a good thing!
- Improving self-efficacy and self-acceptance
Teens really want to feel competent, and are often exploring the questions “am I normal?” and “am I loved?”. In many circumstances they develop unhealthy ways of getting the answers to these questions. Teenagerdom can be a lonely and worry-riddled place, and they just want to relax and feel comfortable in their own skin. Meditation can teach adolescents to connect with their own identity and capabilities, by proving to them that they have their own inner strength and wisdom that they can draw on at any time.
You might be thinking- that’s all well and good but how on earth am I supposed to get my teenager to buy into all this?
- Practice mindfulness yourself first
It’s no good telling a teenager to do something that you yourself are not doing. “Do as I say not as I do,” is a tactic that has failed with teens for generations. Lead by example and demonstrate to them the awesome benefits of meditation and how they are helping you in your life.
- Talk through the benefits with them
Share the list of benefits they could experience- chances are there’s something in there that they want! Even if it’s just higher test scores, or the ability to chill out and not worry about what other’s are thinking so much, it could be highly appealing to say, “what if I told you there’s a way of achieving XYZ (see above list) by doing practically nothing for 12 or more minutes a day?”.
- Make it fun, simple, and a bonding experience
Get them involved with some of the great meditation apps out there- that make meditation easy, fun, and highly accessible on their smartphone. Perhaps they could start a group in which friends could practice mindfulness meditation together! It’s a great way to bond, get closer to friends, and have a laugh as they go through the growing process involved with developing a meditation practice.