Episode 15: Why Your Adolescent Needs Mindfulness
Finding their identity.
One of the biggest developmental tasks for a teenager is identity formation. They are figuring out who they are in relation to the rest of the world. Mindfulness helps us see our external and internal worlds more clearly. This helps adolescents to better understand their values which helps inform their character. They are experimenting by behaving a little differently in each situation, testing boundaries and wearing different hats. They are figuring out, who am I in my family, my friend group, my school and my society? We delve into the question, Who Am I? more than once in our lifetime, and the answer changes. Setting teens up with the mindfulness skills of being present, acceptance, self-compassion and non-judgment help to ensure this growth happens with as little emotional distress as possible. It can be a bumpy road for some and if that is the case, these mindfulness skills act as tools for self-care through the process.
Learning to create and maintain relationships.
In adolescence, teens begin to take full responsibility for their relationships- with friends and romantic partners. They are beginning to understand that they have a relationship with us, their parents and that they can influence this with how they choose to behave towards us and their siblings. They are starting to communicate with their teachers on their own, letting them know why they don't have their homework for the day or why they would like to write the upcoming book report using a novel, not on the list. They may have an employer and co-workers they need to communicate with on a professional level. Their ability to understand their self, their needs and resources as well as the other's needs and resources makes them likely to be successful in forging the relationships they want and asserting themselves when they need to in a way society will find acceptable. Viewing the world mindfully requires that we leave our judgments and preconceived notions behind. I often talk to teens about being scientists as a way to capture examining a situation from a point of objectivity in order to gain perspective. By helping teens ditch judgment they can collect more useful information and they can also practice kindness which helps them maintain their relationships. Kindness and non-judgment towards the self, helps them maintain their self-respect.
Learning about self care.
Individuals that have the capacity to emotionally regulate themselves are more successful at school, in their relationships and their health is better. Individuals that cannot do this are at greater risk for mental health issues and substance abuse issues. How do we build this? When our children are small we label emotions. If we try this with teens we may end up getting in an arguement, right? Mindfulness skills helps them take the steering wheel for their emotional well being by fostering an awareness of their emotions, and then thinking about the options for responding to these emotions. Teens begin to think about how these emotions impact their relationships and how certain individuals impact their emotions. Plus, mindfulness offers them something to do with their negative emotions. Helping teens think about actionable ways to use acceptance, self-compassion, non-judgement and being in the present moment so they have a toolbox of safe coping skills is well worth the time and will likely build trust in the parent child relationship. If your teen makes it clear they don't want to work on this with you, connect with a professional trained in mindfulness skills for adolescents.
Reaching their goals.
When we know who we are, we have a grasp on what it is that motivates us. We are not being pushed down the path by bumping into things, we are actually steering our ship. This is why we see that when adolescents are able to move through the developmental stage of identity formation we just mentioned, they are more prepared to set and reach their goals. When they have their social and emotional skills honed to manage their personal and professional relationships, they are able to get the support they need to move their own plans forward. When teens have their self-care skills in place, they are not going to be easily thrown off course. Their mindfulness skills not only serve them in caring for their psychological well-being, it helps them sustain their path towards goal achievement.
Why you need mindfulness skills when raising a teen.
Modeling. Yes, they are watching you. And yes, you are still incredibly important. Their friends are becoming much more influential to them but it is not one or the other. They still watch how you manage challenges, how you manage your self-care and your personal relationships. They are curious how you reach your goals and what you do when you don't. The hardest part about this is you often don't see this come to fruition until your adolescent is safely in their mid twenties. There is a kind of homecoming where you start to see all those family values you thought went in one ear and out the other. But your ability to tolerate this period with grace will have a big impact on how much they will choose to take from your tool kit. According to Ron Dahl, a neuroscientist and professor of human health and development at the University of California, Berkeley, for kids at higher risk for anxiety or depression, the parent role may be more important for longer. Parents may be needed to provide extra scaffolding to help a teen understand their identity, relationships and coping skills.
It's frustrating. Okay so we know that our teen will not be a teen forever. But in the moment, the moments, it's frustrating. When they were younger and you wanted the next step to be this school or activity, you signed them up and got them there. Now they have to pull their weight in order to make things happen, and you may disagree on goals. You may feel the pressure of the future while they seem completely unaware (they are painfully aware btw about the pressure they just may be overwhelmed with what to do about it). You may feel that in order to get them where they need to be you now have your plate and theirs, to adult sized plates of responsibility. There are so many resources for families going through this, mental health support, skills groups, a great tutoring program, a coach or teacher that miraculously speaks your childs language and inspires them etc. But for now, you have your mindfulness practice. Practice your self-compassion so you can thrive in your own life during this time period and so you can offer them as much compassion as you can muster.
It's scary. The teenage brain is primed to seek and have new experiences, which can bring about risk taking behaviors. You are likely at odds with your teen here as parents tend to be risk adverse with their children. The whole relationship can become themed with attempts to control and keep safe, curfews, driving rules, alarms and tracking for you to learn how to use and for them to learn how to get around. You just want to go to sleep, at a time they seem to be wide awake. Mindfulness helps us know when to take action, how to understand what is happening more clearly and to ensure our actions follow our parenting intentions. Acceptance is not passive, it may help you adjust to who your child is becoming but it can also help you see their choices more realistically, giving you the ability to offer help in a calm way they may be able to receive.