British Columbia: Today’s teens face a unique set of stressors from social media, parents, schools, and society, says Dr. Dzung Vo. The author of The Mindful Teen: Powerful Skills to Help You Handle Stress One Moment at a Time, says mindfulness can be the key to helping teens cope. Mindfulness is an ancient practice that’s been brought into modern medicine by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He describes mindfulness as paying attention on purpose in the present moment and without judgment. I think that’s a very useful definition. Other definitions of mindfulness are about bringing your heart and mind together, and paying attention with an attitude of curiosity, self-compassion, and kindness. Ultimately, there’s no way to describe mindfulness. It’s more of an experience. It’s like asking: “What does chocolate taste like?” Words don’t really describe it—it’s more important to experience it for yourself.
Why should teenagers practice mindfulness?
Growing up today is very difficult. Teens are overwhelmed with stress
from school and families, from pressures, from expectations. Social
media is constantly drawing their attention.
As an adolescent medicine specialist, I see teenagers dealing with
some very complex health issues, and many of them are stress-related:
depression, anxiety, health-risk behaviours, school problems, family
problems and chronic pain, for example. Many of them are also dealing
with very difficult circumstances in their communities and
neighbourhoods related to trauma, poverty, violence and racism.
Mindfulness can give teens a tool to stop their habitual automatic
reactions, which often are harmful to themselves and to others. It
allows them to take a break, come back to the present moment, come back
to their breath, and re-discover their inner strength and their inner
resilience. From that place, they can cope better, see their situation
more clearly, and make a wiser decision on how to respond.
Is there research to support mindfulness for teens?
There is some early research data that suggests mindfulness is
helpful for teens across a wide variety of conditions, including
depression and anxiety, stress, ADHD, substance abuse and coping with
chronic illnesses. Studies done on mindfulness in schools suggest that
it helps teens to focus better, to achieve better results, and to
exhibit more positive behaviours in the classroom.
How can parents encourage their teens to practice mindfulness?
The most important thing parents can do is to learn and practice
mindfulness themselves. Teenagers are very sensitive to hypocrisy by
adults, and if an adult tells a teen to do something they are not doing
themselves, most teens are not going to respond very well.
The next step for parents would be to look at skillful ways to offer mindfulness practices to teens. On my website, mindfulnessforteens.com, I offer some examples of exercises and some good resources to help with that.