Teens and mindfulness

 Me at my high school, age 18.

Me at my high school, age 18.

I am so glad I made it past my teenage years. I wouldn’t want to go through it again for the world or wish to inflict the difficulties I experienced on anyone. Do you remember your teenage years? The mood swings, passionate outbursts, rebellious nature you adopted, and screaming at your parents? Are you a parent now who is experiencing the bumpy road of your teenager “acting out” in similar ways?

V. is 16 years old and suffers from panic attacks, anxiety and depression. Since knowing her, I have seen two sides of her. On her good days, V. is an often vivacious, extremely intelligent and sensitive girl. She knows her mind, has strong opinions and has her passions. She loves puppies and Pokemon. She likes putting on makeup and singing at the top of her lungs. On the days when she’s struggling, she can scream obscenities at her father, sit weeping for hours in the bath, or lie in bed all day looking on her smartphone. She sometimes binges on sweets and makes herself throw up. She sometimes cuts herself deliberately, or threatens to kill herself. She has been hospitalized. She sees a therapist and is on medication. It’s a delicate balance; some days are better than others. Sometimes you wonder if the drugs or therapy are doing any good at all.

I think that the worst thing adults can do is to misunderstand what teenagers are going through. The second worst thing they can do is get upset about it or try to “fix” their child. These children are not broken. They are going through a difficult time in their lives, when their brains haven’t been fully developed and yet we expect them to behave like rational adults. Then when they don’t, we accuse them of being mindless and flakey. 

As a teenager, identity was my biggest struggle. Knowing myself and my own mind, standing up for myself, not caring what others thought of me and having any kind of self-esteem. It took me many years, up through my 40's, to finally get to a place where I experienced these positive emotions on a regular basis.

But our kids don't have to suffer the same fate. Things are changing. Thanks to recently published books sharing the studies and findings from new scientific research on the brains of teenagers, as well as on the benefits of mindfulness, new ideas are being introduced into the mainstreams of healthcare and education. Mindfulness is making its way into schools and teenage retreats and is offered in addition to therapy and medication. Experience is showing that it’s helping.

 Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (iBme) retreat

Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (iBme) retreat

iBme (Inward Bound Mindfulness Education) is one such program for teens. It is not therapy, although it is therapeutic. As explained in an article in Mindful Magazine, “The hidden struggles that afflict teens -- depression, self-loathing, anxiety and abuse, racial violence and doubts about gender and sexual identity -- find a kind of hospitality that is the mark of mindfulness.”

Meditation is one form of mindfulness. It helps develop concentration and focus. It also cultivates a sense of calm, it frees you from negative thoughts, helps you connect more deeply with others, and reduces stress.

A few books about the teenage brain: 

 What kind of mindfulness practices could you see your teenager doing?