When I first came across mindfulness about 10 years ago, probably like you, I thought it was all about people sitting cross-legged, droning on in a circle. I immediately was certain it wasn’t for me, but this is not what it is! Mindfulness can be done by anyone, any age, anywhere and in almost any activity. Mindfulness is a way of being aware of our own thoughts and feelings and learning to live in the present moment to clear our minds of anything else.
I’ve been a health practitioner for more than 20 years now and have increasingly seen and heard more and more about the ability for mindfulness to effectively address mental health concerns in adults as well as childhood. I have seen that the more complicated our lives are, the more important it is to live in the present moment—otherwise we’ll miss much of our lives. And by now I am sold on the magic of mindfulness.
Stress continues to be a major threat to health and learning outcomes for teenagers. And the teen years can be a frightening dark time. Teens are under more pressure today than in generations before them. When we add the burdens of exam stress, mounting homework and social pressures splashed over social media, it is no wonder that teenagers now report higher levels of stress. And yet they report having minimal healthy coping strategies. This is quite alarming because during the teenage period, young people go through considerable developmental changes particularly in regions of the brain that are vital to successfully steer though stressful situations. The prefrontal cortex, for example, doesn’t stop developing until mid to late 20s. This part of the brain is responsible for managing emotions, controlling focus, making decisions and empathy. Studies show that over time, mindfulness meditation increases the gray matter density in your brain, helping with memory, empathy, and decision-making. By meditating on a regular basis, the study also revealed a decrease in the size of the amygdala. The amygdala is the part of the brain associated with fear and stress. Hence, fear and stress are reduced. In his book ‘Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain’, dr. Daniel Siegel suggests that mindful awareness enables the teenage brain to grow more fibres between the executive function center (prefrontal cortex) and limbic system (emotional brain) enhancing a young person’s ability to regulate attention, behaviour, emotions, and thinking all while improving their sense of well-being and connections to others (Siegel, 2013).
The research is so telling and powerful that large institutions and businesses, such as Harvard, Google, Apple and Nike are starting to take action. Top corporations are introducing mindfulness training’s and schools all around the world have started programs to get mindfulness activities for kids into schools.
This doesn’t surprise me though, because there is nothing as powerful as mindfulness to help calm, regulate and re-focus a human brain, big or small. In fact, the power of mindfulness with kids and teenagers is even greater because their brains and bodies are still under development!
Here are just a few amazing areas where mindful activities can provide support to improve a child’s behavior and emotional well-being:
1 – It teaches them to stay calm in the face of life’s stressful times.
We live in a fast-paced, technological world where children are constantly faced with new experiences and challenges. Sometimes children may be unsure how to cope with these stressors and can demonstrate fearful or anxious behaviours. Mindfulness exercises are an extremely effective way to stop the anxiety symptoms in children that result (stomach aches, rapid breathing, fast heartbeat ect) and re-regulate blood pressure, breathing and heart rate.
2 - Improves social skills and communication
‘Emotional intelligence’ is the ability to identify and manage our own emotions and the emotions of others. Mindfulness exercises will help your child get it better touch with their thoughts and feelings and also supports them to recognise the emotions of those around them. It helps them to understand that their emotions (positive or negative!), are valid. With increased awareness of how they are feeling in the moment, come less emotional reactivity and a greater ability to listen and communicate more thoughtfully and effectively.
3 – Improves self-esteem
Many teens struggle with a negative self-image and are too hard on themselves. Mindfulness can significantly increase self-esteem due to the emphasis of self-acceptance and self-compassion.
4 – Improves executive functions
Mindfulness can improve executive functions in your child’s brain like cognitive control, working memory and cognitive flexibility. For me with a child in his final year in school, it is imperative to have better grades. And academic related outcomes when practising mindfulness regularly include increased attention, cognitive, and academic performance.
5 – Increases positive moods and better decision making
At the heart of mindfulness is an acceptance of the present moment, just as is. Adults who practiced only 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation were able to make faster and better decisions because of a decreased tendency to get stuck in past narratives (holding you back from deciding) or project into the future.
If we teach our children mindfulness we prevent them from being stuck in past narratives that would not only lead to make bad decisions, but could also lead to anxiety and depression.
Much of the anxiety and depression we experience as humans are caused by the avoidance and resistance of our felt emotions. We tend to discourage our children from expressing their intense feelings because it’s uncomfortable! But this is the most common mistake in raising an emotionally intelligent child. Feelings, both pleasant and unpleasant are universal and the sign of an emotionally healthy human being! Mindfulness activities teach your child to accept their emotions and experiences in the moment, without critical or negative judgment, allowing them the space to be acknowledged, felt, and as a result, worked through.
We as parents are always worrying about the next thing on the to-do list. Children learn what they live. The most important thing is to follow the oxygen mask principle: put your own mask on first, before you help the child. It is this simple. If we are considerate and respectful to our child, they become respectful, considerate people.
We at Zenzile Life would like for you to rediscover how to be mindful yourself, for the more mindful we are, the more we can appreciate and nurture our children’s innate capacity to be present in each moment.
This post is for informational purposes only. It should not be considered therapy. This blog is only for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. We are not able to respond to specific questions or comments about personal situations, appropriate diagnosis or treatment, or otherwise provide any clinical opinions. If you think you need immediate assistance, call your local doctor/psychologist or psychiatrist or the SADAG Mental Health Line on 011 234 4837. If necessary, please phone the Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or sms 31393.