Benefits of Mindfulness for Kids and Teens

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Kids today have many reasons to feel stressed. From heavy course loads and full athletic schedules, to friendship drama and even violence at school, the stress levels of American students are rising. Environmental problems like climate change contribute to the stress kids feel. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 61% of teens feel pressure to get good grades; and 29% feel a lot of pressure to look a certain way and fit in socially. Plus, there are pressures to be involved in sports, to participate in extracurricular activities, and to get into a good college. Even just dealing with day-to-day life can be stressful and overwhelming.

Combine these pressures and stresses with the increasing rates anxiety and depression among teens, and it is not surprising that improving mental health has become a major concern for both parents and educators. More and more people are turning to mindfulness as a way to help teens to cope with the negative stressors and feelings in their lives.

What Is Mindfulness?

In the most simplified terms, mindfulness means paying full attention to something and not thinking about anything else in that moment.

It means slowing down and really taking notice of what you are doing, even if it means just focusing on your breath. Being mindful is the opposite of multitasking.

When children and teens focus on being mindful, they slow down, take their time, and focus on something in a way that is both relaxing and stress-free. Mindfulness meditation usually involves some combination of breathing exercises, visualization, body awareness, and relaxation.

How Mindfulness Helps

The practice of being mindful allows children and teens to cope with frustration when they are faced with something difficult in their lives. It can also be used when they need to focus their attention on something specific and not allow distractions to derail them. The more kids and teens practice being mindful, the better they get at it.

Plus, it really works. In fact, research shows that practicing mindfulness can improve attention spans for just about anyone—including young people with ADHD who often have trouble paying attention. Overall, people who learn to practice mindfulness are able to pay attention better and are less distractible. Mindfulness also helps individuals stay calm under stress, avoid getting too upset, get along better with others, and be more patient. It can even impact learning, help kids and teens become better listeners, and help them feel happier overall.

Childhood and adolescence are important stages in the developmental process for young people. What happens during these phases of their lives will lay the foundation for their their future mental health.

Mindfulness helps students learn how to pause in all types of situations and respond in a thoughtful way rather than just reacting. This skill is especially helpful when they are faced with challenges or encounter kids who engage in bullying.

Not surprisingly, practicing mindfulness can help kids and teens learn how to manage stress, regulate their emotions, focus on the task at hand, and develop a positive outlook on life.

Kids and teens who use mindfulness also develop a better understanding of how their brains work. They may even develop a sense of curiosity about how their minds work and why they feel the way they feel, which in the end may lead to a deeper understanding of who they are as a person. Research has shown that when mindfulness is used in schools it can provide a range of cognitive, emotional, and social benefits.

Cognitive Benefits

Research has shown that teaching kids mindfulness can impact their cognitive skills, particularly the executive functions performed by the brain. Executive functions are responsible for a person's ability to pay attention, switch focus, organize information, remember details, and engage in planning.

In fact, one study of third-grade students over a period of eight weeks found that when a mindfulness program was implemented in the school, the students showed improvements in regulating their behaviors and focusing on the task at hand when compared to a control group that did not participate in a mindfulness program.

Meanwhile, another study found that students participating in a 24-week mindfulness program scored better on attention-based activities than other students in their elementary school. Likewise, a study of preschoolers found that students with a mindfulness curriculum scored better on academic performance tests. They also showed greater improvement in areas that predict future academic success.

Emotional Benefits

Emotional health, or a positive sense of well-being, is an important component of every child's life. Not only is it the basis for mental health, but it also can help deter mental health issues like:

  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Self-esteem issues
  • Improved social interactions

Overall, being mindful or participating in mindfulness activities can not only help students manage stress but also increase their sense of well-being. For instance, one study found that after participating in a mindfulness program students were more likely to report feeling optimistic. Meanwhile, another study found that preteens reported feeling calmer, getting better sleep, and having an enhanced sense of well-being after participating in a five-week mindfulness and stress-reduction program.

Social Benefits

Difficulty interacting and communicating with others can lead to problems with learning, understanding, and school climate. But mindfulness programs have been shown to improve these skills and lead to positive results within the school.

For instance, a five-week mindfulness program in an elementary school led to better participation in classroom activities. Meanwhile, a mindfulness program in a high school helped nurture mutual respect and care among students and improve school climate.

Other Benefits

Mindfulness has also been shown to increase a child or teen's ability to regulate emotions as well as feel compassion and empathy. It also is widely considered an effective treatment for people of all ages that deal with aggression, ADHD, or other mental health problems like anxiety. And can even be used to alleviate the painful effects of bullying.

Mindfulness also can be used as a tool to enhance self-concept, improve planning skills, and control impulses. And, when used effectively in schools, mindfulness can reduce the number of visits to the principal's office, decrease the amount of school bullying, and improve attendance.

Overall, mindfulness is about getting children and teens to reflect on their own thoughts and actions and learn how to make better choices. They are no longer reacting to things in their environment, but are instead responding to them in thoughtful and purposeful ways.

Ultimately, when kids and teens come to understand that they can be in control of their thoughts, feelings, and actions, they not only make better choices but feel more in control of their decision-making processes.

Tips for Parents and Educators

Ensure that you're using mindfulness in the most effective way with these strategies.

  1. Remember the purpose of mindfulness is to reduce stress and increase positivity. Consequently, avoid using mindfulness as a disciplinary tool. Mindfulness is about increasing awareness that thoughts are "just thoughts," understanding how emotions manifest in their bodies, and recognizing when attention has wandered.
  2. Set aside a time each day to practice mindfulness. It is a skill that takes time to develop.
  3. Offer to practice mindfulness with your kids or students. This way, you are modeling for them how to incorporate it into their everyday lives, even when they are adults.
  4. Select the right time to practice mindfulness. For instance, avoid planning a mindfulness activity during recess when the kids want to run and play. Pick a quiet time of day when there are few distractions the first few times you practice. Eventually, as they get better at becoming mindful, they will be able to put it to use even in the most chaotic situations.
  5. Share some examples of how you have redirected your thoughts and encourage your kids or students to share their experiences. By discussing what works and what doesn't work, you can all learn from and support one another.

A Word from Verywell

Ideally, mindfulness should be practiced every day. This way it becomes a way of life and a constant reminder for kids to focus on what is right in front of them. It also keeps them from allowing their minds to ruminate on things that happened in the past or worry about things that might happen in the future. When children and teens learn to do this on a regular basis, they will have a much more positive outlook on life and experience much less stress.

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