You may have heard about mindfulness from a friend, in a self-help book or in your yoga class. There is a rapidly growing body of scientific evidence supporting mindfulness as a way to reduce stress and its negative consequences on the body and mind.
Mindfulness is also an effective way for tweens and teens to learn to cope with excessive worries, anxiety, perfectionism and everyday stress. How does it work? Training in mindfulness helps children recognize their own emotions and those of others, and promotes the development of skills to communicate feelings more effectively. By helping children recognize their emotions as they arise - anxiety, sadness, elation, boredom, anger, irritation - and the bodily sensations that accompany them, we are helping them learn to self-regulate. Emotions need to be identified before they can be managed.
Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to the negative consequences of emotionality. Important areas of the brain, responsible for mood regulation and impulsivity control are rapidly developing. These are the areas needed to facilitate coping with the grip of strong emotions that accompany this period of development. Mindfulness practice can help teenagers learn to befriend themselves and explore their inner worlds with compassion and self-awareness. Stress also impacts the development of the regions of the adolescent brain responsible for executive function, working memory and emotional regulation. Since these functions influence the ability to learn, it makes sense that providing children with mindfulness tools to promote self-regulation, stress reduction and the ability to sustain attention will ultimately help to improve academic performance.
Although emphasis on academic achievement is the focus in most school settings and in some families, current research illustrates that social and emotional wellbeing are inextricably linked in the attainment of academic outcomes; academic success depends on the foundation of emotional wellness.
The best way to get tweens and teens interested in mindfulness is for you to explore the practice. Model an awareness of your own emotionality and look for ways to manage stress that can also promote present-mindedness. This can be done in everyday activities: in our parenting, our meal preparation, in our hobbies and interests. Explore the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn to learn more about mindfulness and visit www.mindfulnesscds.com for information on his audio materials.
Carol Alexander and her colleague Shahla Mazlouman MA, RCC are offering Learning to Breathe – Mindfulness for Tweens and Teens. It is a six-week course helping adolescents develop tools for coping with anxiety, perfectionism, excessive worries, improving relationships, developing empathy and enhancing personal awareness. Email email@example.com or call 604-551-3365 for registration or more information.