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Someone old and wise once said that raising kids is tough, but raising teenagers is like trying to nail jelly to the wall – only the jelly smells faintly of sweat and responds to everything you say with an eye roll…
One of the trickiest parts of parenting a teen is creating and keeping a connection, because the child who once ran to give you hugs and reveal every detail of their day now avoids you like the plague.
Which is where mindfulness can help.
Pennsylvania State University published a paper describing mindfulness as ‘a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment’ and the practice of mindfulness can help an individual experience ‘the rising and falling of mental states with acceptance and without attachment and judgment’ – and if there’s anyone who could use help dealing with the hormone rollercoaster of emotions, it’s teenagers.
For more information on the basics of mindfulness, check out our article Mind full? A beginner’s guide to Mindfulness.
We sat down with Smiling Mind psychologist and lead facilitator, Michael Hines to discuss just what sort of impact practising mindfulness can have on teens.
Michael reveals that mindfulness can help your teen reach their peak performance both intellectually and physically by increasing emotional control, improving attention and focus and assisting in better decision making and problem solving.
A 2014 study into the effect of meditation in the higher education classroom asked participants to either meditate or rest before listening to a class lecture and then taking a post-lecture quiz. The results found that the group who took part in the meditation had improved retention of information, leading the students to perform better in the quiz.
While in 2015, The Sport Journal reported results of a 12-week study into the part mindfulness can play on the stress levels, perceived performance and burnout among junior elite athletes. The study found that mindfulness can have a positive effect on the athletes’ awareness abilities, and this improved awareness was beneficial for enhanced recovery and sporting performance.
Mindfulness can improve processing speed, memory, biases in thinking, emotional reactions & burnouts
Between Snapchat, Netflix, text messages and Facebook, it can be hard for your teen to concentrate on the one thing. Michael explains that mindfulness can train the brain to get better at keeping focussed.
“Multitasking is an illusion; what’s really happening in the brain is ‘attention switching’. This happens too fast that it makes us appear as though we’re doing multiple things at one, but each time we switch our attentions, there’s an ‘attentional blink’ where we go offline for 200-500 milliseconds,” Michael says.
“Multitasking wastes energy and the information we take in ends up being sent to the wrong area of the brain and, as a result, it ends up making things take longer, become more stressful and more riddled with mistakes.”
Mindfulness can help to curb attention switching and allows us to ‘unitask’, which he explains can improve processing speed, memory, biases in thinking, emotional reactions and burnouts1.
It’s no secret that Gen Z are using social media far more regularly than any previous generation and a recent study found that teens are spending up to 11 hours every day staring at a screen, with 24% of them online ‘almost constantly’.
Want some more scary phone facts? Alerts and notifications on your device can cause a 28% increase in errors and texts cause a 23% increase2. Not great stats when you’ve got a teenager in the classroom or at home studying for a big exam.
That’s where mindfulness comes in.
Michael explains, “Mindfulness can enable us to choose more wisely how and when we use technology. It becomes a conscious choice as opposed to autopilot.”
Some simple tips for helping your teen control their technology use include:
Michael describes humans as being hard-wired toward ‘negative bias’, meaning we’re constantly on the lookout for problems.
“Our brain is always scanning for issues; we worry about the future, dwell on the past and are judgmental and critical of ourselves. All this makes us stressed, anxious and can lead to depression,” he says.
“Mindfulness helps by developing our ability to stay connected to the present moment rather than worrying about the future or ruminating on the past.”
“With 75% of mental illness beginning during adolescence, it’s important to help them find ways to manage their emotional intelligence and stress, something that mindfulness has been shown to assist with.”
Anyone who can remember back to the halls of high school can probably remember how judgemental teens can be. If you buy the wrong pencil case or wear the wrong outfit, it can be 'social suicide'.
Unfortunately, as humans, we're automatically wired to judge, but mindfulness can help your teen out of that mindset. Encouraging your teen to tune into their thoughts and notice any judgments they have about themselves and their peers can help give them the skills to become more compassionate.
Keen to learn the art of mindfulness? nib foundation partner, Smiling Mind offers a free, easy-to-use app that provides mindfulness meditation training programs that you can do anywhere, anytime. The app has already reached two million people across the globe and is used by tens of thousands of educators in schools. For more information, head to the Smiling Mind website.
1Chambers, R., Lo, B. C. Y., & Allen, N. B. (2008). The impact of intensive mindfulness training on attentional control, cognitive style, and affect. Cognitive Therapy. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 32: 303–322 De Neys W, Vartanian O, Goel V. (2008). Smarter than we think: when our brains detect that we are biased. Psychological Science,19(5): 483-9. Ludwig, D.S. and Kabat-Zinn, J. (2008) Mindfulness in Medicine. Jama, 300, 1350-1352. Hayes, A. and Feldman, G. (2004). Clarifying the Construct of Mindfulness in the Context of Emotion Regulation and the Process of Change in Therapy. Clinical Psychology Science and Practice, 11(3): 255 - 262. Krasner MS, Epstein RM, Beckman H, et al. Association of an Educational Program in Mindful Communication With Burnout, Empathy, and Attitudes Among Primary Care Physicians. JAMA. 2009;302(12):1284–1293.
2Stothart C, Mitchum A, Yehnert C. (2015). The Attentional Cost of Receiving a Cell Phone Notification. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, Vol. 41, No. 4, 893–897.