A mindful break for teens – 7 inspiring ideas worth sharing

Year end or mid-year exams, peer and parental pressures, and the anticipation of the long summer break ahead (for those in this part of the world) can be creating stresses and anxieties in teens everywhere. At times a mindful break can be the best thing for a busy and exhausted mind, a body overcome by stress, or simply to fill the bored space.

Here are seven short video’s specifically for teens, or by teens, that explain the teenage brain; how mindfulness can bring a calm awareness to those with distracted minds and anxious emotions; and how kindness and gratitude is great for everyone.

The complex teenage brain

Cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blackmore studies the social brain and sheds light on why teenagers are so much more impulsive than adults.  She reveals that it’s less about hormones and attitude, and more about the development of the teenage brain.

Around the age of 12-14, the brains grey matter begins its pruning phase, involving the pruning of the neurons and synapses that are not being used and the strengthening of those that are. The brain region changing most dramatically in adolescence is the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for cognitive functions like planning and organizing, inhibiting inappropriate behavior, social interaction, and self-awareness.

Social decision-making differs in adults and adolescence because they use a different mental approach to make these decisions. Sarah explains that “the ability to take into account someone else’s perspective to guide ongoing behavior, which is something we do in everyday life all the time, is still developing in mid to late age adolescence”. So something kids like their parents to do before puberty, like singing, they can be mortifyingly embarrassing after puberty.

Even with all the challenges parents and society attach to teenagers, actually Sarah-Jayne suggests this is “a period of life when the brain is particularly adaptable and malleable. It’s a fantastic opportunity for learning and creativity.”

More insights into the teenage brain

Adolescent brain development researcher from the University of California, Dr. Adriana Galván, says that one of the jobs in adolescence is to “establish your independence from your caregivers.” She researches the characteristics of teenage behavior, such as risk-taking, exploration and thrill-seeking from a brain perspective. She says that teenage brains are really good at getting teenagers to seek out new experiences, risks, and recognizing social and emotional information, and therefore the teenage brain is highly responsive to emotional information when making decisions.

In addition to the high level cognitive functions noted earlier, the prefrontal cortex helps us be aware of the consequences of our actions and regulates our emotions. As this part of the brain is the last to develop and is not completely developed until our mid 20’s, it makes complete sense that teens make more impulsive decisions with less regard to the consequences.

Mindfulness for teens

Jessica Morey runs a program called iBme – Inward Bound Mindfulness Education – sort of like outward bound but with a focus on mindfulness activities.

In this talk to secondary students she introduces the question “where is your mind?” In this quick little exercise students realise that their minds are not where they most obviously think they are…

She talks about the brain evolving for social engagement, allowing adolescence to connect with people beyond their parents or immediate family. As the human race has evolved we’ve needed to expand our social connections and groups in order to survive, and this is how our brains understand and make sense of the world around us.

In today’s context Jessica reminds the students that young brains are still doing the same thing. You might not get invited to a party, and this causes you to be really upset…. “you might feel like you are going to die.” Back in the day…. if you were left alone outside your tribe, you would have been likely to die because you would not have been able to survive alone. As Jessica points out, “… it’s not just you making it up or being overly dramatic, this is a real experience that is happening in the brain that is left over.”

Mindfulness can help us manage some of the changes in brain development with calmness and happiness.  Gratitude and kindness practices are also helpful to recognize the good things in life, so that they can work to offset the normal evolutionary brain state of focusing on the negative.

I’m17: Kate Simonds

This talk is an inspiration to all 17 year old’s especially those who feel they are not being heard, and a viewing must for teachers and parents!

This smart young woman’s idea worth spreading is this: “a world of creative collaboration between adults and students. It’s a world where adults listen and respect student ideas and a world where students respect and listen to their own ideas.”

Positivity and acts of kindness to combat bullying

In this beautiful talk about her real life experience, Caitline Haacke tells us how she used her fear to face the bullies at school. Her acts of positivity have reverberated around the world, turning negativity and the ugliness of bullying, into love and understanding.

Make kindness your new habit

Kindness is a language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see” Mark Twain

Continuing on the theme of kindness D’Nessa March is an inspiring young woman who suggests that acts of kindness can be created as new habits. Replacing negative traits with simple positive habits like “replacing your eye rolls with a smile”, can shift your coping mechanisms, allowing you to generally be more happy and healthy. Think about it, if you are kind to someone, it makes you feel good, if they are kind to you, it makes you feel good.

D’Nessa challenges us to make common courtesy our habit to help change those around us.

Take 10 min to do nothing but be

Andy Puddicombe, former monk and now mindfulness expert who gave us Headspace, one of the many  mindfulness apps available, says that it’s important to take time to simply be. Being distracted in the world today seems like a fact of life but it also means that we miss out on how things are in the present moment.

In his years as a monk, he says that he learned a greater appreciation for the present moment and by that he means not being distracted or lost in thoughts about what happened or what will be, and not being caught up in emotions. The present moment, he says “is so underrated, it sounds so ordinary, but we spend so little time in the present moment, it is anything but ordinary.”

Ultimately being in the present moment leads to a healthy and less distracted mind and this is what mindfulness skills and mindfulness exercises teach us to do. Try it…you’ll be glad you did.


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