Mindfulness is the ability to consciously and fully focus on the present moment. It involves observing one’s thoughts, feelings, and surroundings without judging them as good or bad. Instead of getting caught up in what could’ve been or what’s to come, mindfulness allows you to take a mental break and immerse fully in what is happening right now. Mindfulness exercises can help teenagers reduce stress, control mood swings, and improve focus.1
At what age can you teach mindfulness?
You can teach mindfulness practices such as mindful breathing or mindful walking to children starting from 2 or 3 years old. Teenagers will master the techniques faster. Young children may not master the skills perfectly at first, but they will improve over time with practice.
What are the benefits?
Here are 10 benefits of mindfulness for teenagers.2,3
- Improve focus and concentration – Mindfulness can help teens put aside distractions and concentrate on tasks such as studying. Improvements in attention can have a positive impact on teens, especially those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
- Reduce mood swings – Teens learn to pause and recognize their feelings when struggling with difficult emotions and to respond thoughtfully rather than impulsively. Better self-regulation helps teens stabilize their moods and make better decisions.
- Manage stress – Regular mindfulness practice reduces stress levels, helping teens remain calm and collected in adverse situations, such as academic pressures, changing relationships, and newfound responsibilities.
- Increase self-esteem: Mindfulness can promote healthier self-esteem in teens, promoting self-awareness and acceptance. Teenagers learn to self-reflect, appreciate their individuality, and resist the pressure to conform.
- Build resilience – Teens develop the ability to bounce back from setbacks, stress, or any hardships.
- Better sleep: Mindfulness practice is linked to improved sleep quality, which is important for teens because biological changes during adolescence often cause sleep issues.
- Improve behavior: Mindfulness can foster empathy, compassion, and positivity among teens, leading to healthier interactions and less risky behavior.
- Reduce depression and anxiety symptoms: Regularly practicing mindfulness can also help decrease in depression and anxiety symptoms in teens.
- Learn coping skills: Mindfulness is a powerful coping mechanism. Teens can detach from overwhelming thoughts or distressing emotions and deal with their life’s problems effectively.
- Decrease unhealthy habits: Enhanced self-awareness and self-regulation allow teenagers to recognize and challenge unhealthy patterns, such as procrastination, reliance on screen time, or poor sleeping habits.
What are some mindfulness exercises for teens?
Here are 10 mindfulness activities for teens.4
- Mindful breathing exercise – Deep breathing, as a foundation of mindfulness, focuses solely on one’s breath, observing how it feels as it enters and exits the body. Focus on taking slow breaths, inhaling through the nose, and exhaling through the mouth. This can calm the mind and reduce the levels of stress.
- The five-finger starfish meditation – Spread the fingers like a starfish and trace each finger with the opposite hand, focusing on the sensation.
- Progressive muscle relaxation – Lying down and slowly moving attention through different body parts, from toes to head, to identify any areas of tension. Tense up each muscle group and then relax.
- Mindful walking – Take a walk and focus on the experience of walking, noticing the movement of the legs and the feel of the ground under the feet.
- Sensory observation – Focus on one sense at a time, like listening to all the sounds around, to enhance the awareness of the present moment.
- Mindful eating – This involves eating a meal or snack slowly and without distraction, savoring each bite, and paying attention to the flavors and textures.
- Observation exercises – Focus the attention on a specific object and note details about it that may go unnoticed, encouraging deep concentration and present-moment awareness.
- Gratitude reflection – Write down or reflect on things you are grateful for, which can shift focus from negative to positive aspects of life.
- Guided imagery – Practice guided imagery by visualizing a peaceful scene or journey, which can help create a sense of calm and tranquility.
- Mindful coloring – Coloring can be meditative, as it requires concentration on the task at hand and allows for creative expression.
How to teach teens
Teaching mindfulness to teens involves engaging them in a way that resonates with their interests and experiences.
Here are 7 strategies to effectively introduce mindfulness to teenagers.
- Start simple – Explain what mindfulness is in simple terms. Describe it as paying attention to the present moment and noticing thoughts and feelings in the moment without judgment.
- Practice together – Do it together with your teen to show its importance.
- Try different activities – Show your teenager different types of mindfulness exercises and let them choose one each time so they can find what works best for them.
- Keep it short initially – Begin with short, simple exercises. A minute of focused breathing or listening to sounds can be a good start.
- Create a routine – Help your teen set aside a particular time of day to develop a daily routine, e.g., a mindful moment each afternoon after school and a snack to ground their mind.
- Teach flexibility – Teach your child that it’s okay for their mind to wander. Ask your teen to notice this without frustration and gently bring their attention back.
- Incorporate mindfulness in everyday life – Teach your teenager to listen and respond with full attention in conversations, which can improve their relationships and communication skills.
How do you explain it to middle schoolers?
To explain mindfulness to middle schoolers, use examples such as the following.
Mindfulness means being completely aware and engaged in the present moment without letting thoughts about the past or worries about the future distract you, like hitting the “pause button” on the remote control of life.
Tell your child to imagine themselves as a surfer and their thoughts and feelings as waves – some are small and manageable, while others are big and challenging. Mindfulness is similar to learning to ride these waves without being overwhelmed by them.
Describe mindfulness as a mental exercise; just like physical workouts help build muscles, mindfulness strengthens the brain’s ability to focus and handle stress.5
Is meditation a mindfulness practice?
Yes, meditation is a type of mindfulness practice where you concentrate entirely on the now, observing your thoughts and emotions without critique. A common type of meditation for teenagers and beginners to mindfulness is breathing meditation, where you focus on the rhythm and sensations of your breath as it flows in and out of your body.
Is yoga a mindfulness practice?
Yes, yoga is a mindfulness practice that combines physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation or relaxation. In yoga, the focus is on being present in the moment and aware of your body’s movements, the pattern of your breath, and the thoughts and sensations that arise. This holistic approach encourages a mindful state, where attention is paid to the present experience, fostering a connection between the body and mind. Yoga is excellent for teenagers who want to incorporate physical exercises into their routines.
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- 1.Delgado-Suárez I, López-del-Hoyo Y, García-Campayo J, et al. Testing the Efficacy of ‘Unlearning’, a Mindfulness and Compassion-Based Programme for Cultivating Nonviolence in Teenagers: A Randomised Controlled Trial. Front Psychol. Published online December 16, 2021. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2021.717736
- 2.Jones P, Blunda M, Biegel G, Carlson LE, Biel M, Wiener L. Can mindfulness‐based interventions help adolescents with cancer? Psycho-Oncology. Published online February 18, 2013:2148-2151. doi:10.1002/pon.3251
- 3.Kallapiran K, Koo S, Kirubakaran R, Hancock K. Review: Effectiveness of mindfulness in improving mental health symptoms of children and adolescents: a meta‐analysis. Child Adoles Ment Health. Published online September 8, 2015:182-194. doi:10.1111/camh.12113
- 4.Biegel GM, Chang K, Garrett A, Edwards M. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Teens. Mindfulness-Based Treatment Approaches. Published online 2014:189-212. doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-416031-6.00009-8
- 5.Kostova Z, Levin L, Lorberg B, Ziedonis D. Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Adolescents with Mental Health Conditions: A Systematic Review of the Research Literature. J Child Fam Stud. Published online May 30, 2019:2633-2649. doi:10.1007/s10826-019-01477-7