The teenage years are full of ups and downs for both parents and teens. As we watch our children grow, we experience just about every emotion possible – pride, joy, fear, sadness, and everything in between. As teenagers, our children are experiencing one of the biggest periods of change in their lives as they find their independence, struggle to better understand who they are and journey toward adulthood. Being a teenager and being the parent of a teenager requires patience, resilience, self-awareness, open-heartedness, and the difficult and endless task of letting go. Enter mindfulness.
As the mother of three teenagers myself, and as a mindfulness teacher working with parents and teens, I see every day the challenges our teenagers face. As a mom, I want to be able to help and support my children through this transition period in their lives, but also offer them more independence and freedom to find their own way forward. We can help our teens navigate the ups and downs of adolescence, and give them lifelong skills, by introducing them to mindfulness and by practicing mindfulness ourselves. The challenge is how to share the practice of mindfulness with teens who often do not want our help as they struggle to become more independent.
My best advice is to follow the tips below to help your teen understand the incredible benefits of mindfulness. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure if my efforts over many years were sinking in, but when my son went to college last year, I was thrilled when he called to tell me, “Mindfulness really works.” He explained that he was feeling overwhelmed and anxious, so he went for a walk outside, took a few deep breaths and realized that everything would be OK. He called to tell me this and ended with, “Thank you mom.” So, stick with it. Sharing mindfulness and meditation practices with your teen is well worth the effort. Here are ways to connect with your teens through the practice of mindfulness.
Role Model Mindfulness
The first bit of advice is not to teach or preach but to role model mindfulness for your teen. So, get your mindfulness mojo on! Mindfulness is the practice of intentionally paying attention to what you are experiencing in the present moment, without judging that experience. Being fully present with your teen means giving them your full, open-hearted, non-judgmental and undivided attention. This is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child. This shows them that they are worthy of your attention, that they matter and that they are not being judged. Despite your parental urges, know that you don’t have to talk or give advice to add value. Just be there to listen. Teens often just want to be heard and have their feelings validated. They don’t want us to tell them how to fix a problem or why their struggles don’t matter in the larger scheme of life. To them, what they are experiencing does matter. We can be present for them and willing to listen whenever they are ready to talk. This is a wonderful way to open the line of communications with your teen and create a stronger connection during this time of great change.
Don’t Try to Fix Everything – Teach Them to Be OK with Not Feeling OK.
Another gift we can give our teens is to let them be OK with not always feeling OK. Getting comfortable with discomfort is one of the many gifts of mindfulness practice. Life has its challenges and we must resist the urge as parents to jump in and make things easier for our teens. As they prepare to leave the comfort and safety of home, they will need to know how to face stressful situations and how to overcome obstacles. Giving them the space and the emotional support to face challenges will give them access to their own inner resources and the confidence to move through life’s struggles.
Everything is Temporary
Another gift of mindfulness practice is the awareness that everything is temporary. Thoughts, feelings and physical sensations come and go. Mindfulness meditation helps us see our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations without being overwhelmed by them. We can simply observe them, name them and create a certain tolerance to be with even unpleasant experiences as they move through us.
Talking to our teens about being mindful of our thoughts and feelings can help. You can do this by naming your own feelings and describing your experiences. Noting when you feel stressed or overwhelmed and talking about how you handle those feelings, and what tools (like deep breathing) help you move through them. This not only helps teens understand strategies to cope with challenges, but also normalizes their feelings as they see that adults experience these feelings too. It also helps them recognize that they are not their thoughts, feelings or sensations, but those are merely what they are experiencing right now, not who they are.
Talk about the Science
Teens often like to learn about their bodies and how their bodies work. Talking about the science behind meditation may be a good way to peak their interest in the practice. You can explain that when we are feeling stress, our bodies enter a Fight or Flight mode, a survival mechanism that helps us survive physical danger. However, most often in modern life, even when we are not in real physical danger, our bodies respond as if we are, our hearts beat rapidly, our breath becomes shallow and rapid, and our bodies react as if our lives are in actual danger. Mindful breathing is an amazing tool that actually de-activates our bodies’ Fight or Flight response and triggers our parasympathetic nervous system to help us calm down. A few deep, mindful breaths can help us slow down our minds, our hearts and our bodies so that we can feel calm and access our more rational, decision-making regions of our brain. This amazing resource can be used in all kinds of situations throughout our lives. Our breath is actually a remote control for our brains! What an amazing gift to help our teens understand how they can gain control of their bodies when they are feeling stressed, overwhelmed or anxious.
Lastly, scientists are now discovering that we can actually change the structure and functions of our brains through mental training. Much like bicep curls that strengthen our arm muscles, mindfulness practices strengthen our brains in ways that can improve cognitive function, emotional regulation, and overall mental wellbeing. Professional athletes, musicians and business leaders are all using mindfulness to help achieve success and peak performance. So, learning mindfulness and practicing meditation is an incredible way to stay mentally healthy and will help you be your best self.
Come sit with Cheryl on Journey LIVE Sunday – Thursday at 9PM EST and Monday at 1 PM ET for our Mom Community Class.