It’s no secret that the coronavirus pandemic has been difficult for many people, but teens are one group dealing with their own set of struggles during this time. With so many traditional high school activities postponed or canceled, including in-person classes for many schools, it can be challenging to help your teenager cope.
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Teens can sometimes be impulsive and angst-ridden even during the best of times. Behavioral health therapist Jane Ehrman, MEd, explains why teenagers can be this way, and offers ideas about how meditation can help your teen deal with stress and anxiety during this uncertain time.
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. If you’re dealing with anxiety or past trauma, the amygdala can be more reactive to stress.
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 Ehrman says, 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,” she says.
Q: Are there other benefits to meditation?
A: Yes. The practice of mindfulness exercises such as meditation will improve focus and concentration so teens can focus on homework and perform better on exams. Meditation can also help with self-esteem and memory, reduce high blood pressure and heart rate, and help balance the immune system.
Q: How do you start a meditation program?
A: It can be daunting to know how to help your teen begin a meditation program. Start with a simple two to five minutes of meditation. Here are some steps to follow:
- Have your teen close their eyes or softly gaze at their lap or straight ahead and pay attention to their breathing.
- The goal is to pull your teen out of their own head where the worrisome thoughts are and drop into her body. Have your teen simply pay attention to each breath as it comes and goes.
- Ask your teen to notice how their body is feeling and breathe through it. Let your teen know that if they are anxious, it’s just a feeling and it will pass.
- Encourage your teen to separate themselves from their emotions. Tell your child to pay attention to their chest and abdomen, how they contract and expand. Ask them to pay attention to how their breath feels on their nostrils, breathing in and out.
- Ask your teen to breathe without judgment and without trying to change the rhythm of their breath.
Q: Is the goal of meditation to ‘stop thinking?’
A: No. Your 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. You bring your focus back to staying on the path or trail. The same is true for meditation. 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.
Q: How much meditation does a teen need to reap benefits?
A: They can start small with four to five minutes of meditation, 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: Yes. If your teen is uncomfortable attempting to meditate with you, this can be especially handy! There are many apps available on your smartphone or tablet, such as Calm or Headspace, that your teen can sample for free. The Cleveland Clinic also has a free app called Mindful Moments.
You also can use your phone as a timer for meditation.
Your teenager may react with skepticism at first when you suggest meditation. But, with all the uncertainty in the world right now, 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.