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Mindfulness in Adolescents

This is the third part on the topic of Mindfulness after talking about it in infants and in children.  See archived issues in September and October respectively, at https://www.johnspitzermd.com/category/pediatric-corner/

Although apps can be useful to teens when they are trying to learn about mindfulness and the techniques to practice mindfulness (Headspace, Calm, Insight Meditation Timer, Smiling Mind, and Stop, Breathe and Think), teens learn best by practicing mindfulness in the moment and as they are relating to others.  The daily practice involves being in the moment with friends, family, in a relationship, or in sports competition.  At the heart of the activity is the ability to be present in the moment, listen with an open mind, and speak back with kindness, understanding and honesty.

When we begin to practice mindfulness, we become in tune with our bodies: we learn to pair our emotions with how our body feels.  During moments of stress, for example, we learn what parts of our body tend to tense up.  As we learn to recognize what is going on with our body in a particular moment and practice mindfulness, we learn to control our emotions.  From here, we begin to improve our relationships as we learn to listen to others.  Interestingly enough, we release dopamine (the “feel-good neurotransmitter”) when we show compassion and kindness to others.

Part of mindfulness involves being in the moment without passing judgment.   This frees us from any distractions while we try to absorb the outside and feel what we have in the inside.  This allows us to see ourselves as we are, with all our positives and even accepting all our negatives.  As we accept ourselves as we are, we become more confident and begin to develop a more positive self-image.  Studies have shown that teens who practice mindfulness have less problems with anxiety, depression and have more resilience.  In addition, teens that meditate or practice mindfulness concentrate better at school and perform better during the exams.

We can begin this concept of mindfulness at home during dinnertime.  The conversation can go in many directions, including some joyful and laughing moments while at other times there may be some stress and tension.  In either situation, being able to listen with an open heart and mind while making sure we understand and empathize what the other is saying is key to avoiding raising voices and beginning an argument.   We can minimize distractions by putting our phones down and beginning the meal with a moment of silence to be grateful for being together and sharing each other’s company.  For some families, this may take the form of a prayer.

It is important that teens understand why this is important.  I found Sara Raymond’s YouTube video from the Mindful Movement a good introduction to mindfulness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psyExnCkcXU

I also found an easy read for teens the book by pediatrician Dzung X. Vo, MD: The Mindful Teen.

Let’s empower our teens to be free and resilient!

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