How to Use Meditation for Teen Stress and Anxiety

Tools to calm, increase mindfulness

When your teenager does something questionable and you ask him why, he’s probably going to say, “I don’t know.” And he’s not lying. Teens are infamous for a lack of impulse control. And there are biological reasons behind that.

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But how can you get teenagers to slow down and think before they act? Get them to try meditation.

During the teen years, the frontal lobe of the brain — which helps make good decisions — isn’t always communicating well with the amygdala, which responds immediately and instinctively to triggers.

At this age, the pathway in the brain between the amygdala and frontal lobe isn’t as strong. But through meditation, the brain will rewire. With 15 minutes of daily meditation for at least three weeks, the brain becomes more responsive and less reactive — which can be especially helpful to teens prone to anxiety or erratic behavior.

We talked with behavioral health therapist Jane Ehrman, MEd, about how meditation can help teenagers.

Q: Why is meditation good specifically for teens with angst/anxiety?

A: The amygdala (in the brain) is part of our survival mechanism. It’s always looking out for what is going to hurt us — especially if you are one of those people dealing with anxiety or past trauma.

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It’s like leaving your car running all night. You’re wasting gas and wearing out the car. Meditation is like shutting it off and quieting the system down.

Q: Are there other benefits of meditation?

A: Yes. It improves focus and concentration so teens can focus on homework and perform better on exams. It helps with self-esteem and memory, reduces blood pressure and heart rate, and helps balance the immune system.

Q: How do you start?

A: In the beginning, try two to five minutes of meditation. Here are some steps to follow:

  1. Have your teen close her eyes or softly gaze at her lap or straight ahead and pay attention to her breathing. The goal is to have her get out of her head, where the worrisome thoughts are (it’s a bad neighborhood), and drop into her body. She should simply pay attention to each breath as it comes and goes.
  2. Have her notice how her body is feeling and breathe through it. Let her know that if she is anxious, it’s just a feeling and it will pass.
  3. Encourage her to separate herself from her emotions. Tell her to pay attention to her chest and abdomen, how they contract and expand and how breath feels cool on the nostrils breathing in and warm on the way out.
  4. Ask her to breathe without judgment and without trying to change the rhythm of her breath.

Q: Is the goal of meditation to ‘stop thinking?’

A: No. The mind is always thinking.

It’s like when you’re riding a bike past all kinds of things. You don’t stop and look at everything that goes by. Some thoughts will catch your attention while you’re meditating and others won’t. When something does, acknowledge it, and then redirect the focus back to your breathing.

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Q: How much meditation does a teen need to reap benefits?

A: They can start small with the goal of advancing to 15 minutes, once a day, four to five times a week. If they can accomplish this, it eventually begins rewiring their brain — often in about three weeks.

Q: Teens are often on a cell phone. Can they use it for meditation?

A: There are applications that help facilitate meditation. Here’s a quick look at three popular apps:

  • Stop, Breathe & Think asks questions to gauge a teen’s mood and then guides their meditation based on their response.
  • Smiling Mind offers meditation for different age groups, starting at age 7.
  • Take a Break! provides short, guided meditations for all ages with music and nature sounds available.

You also can use your phone as a timer for the meditation.

Your teenager may react with skepticism at first when you suggest meditation. But, with all the noise in the world and on the internet these days, teens can definitely benefit from taking time to quiet the noise and meditate. It’s a handy practice that can help them through all kinds of confusing and stressful situations in life.

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