Adolescence can be challenging. Adolescence in 2021 can be particularly challenging.
Practicing mindfulness can help.
Mindfulness is described as purposeful, nonjudgmental awareness, acceptance, and being fully present. Practicing mindfulness teaches you to live in the moment, right here, right now, and to have more control over your thoughts and feelings.
A growing body of evidence shows that teens, and boys in particular, can benefit from practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is linked to lower stress and anxiety, improvement in self-control and attention, increased resilience, and better academic performance.
Mindfulness and Boys
As we’ve discussed previously in this blog, boys can have a tough time communicating their needs. The later maturation of the male frontal lobe makes it difficult for boys to express things verbally. Instead they often express difficult thoughts and emotion through acting out or shutting down.
Adding to that, societal pressure to act tough and suppress their feelings can lead to anxiety, depression, substance misuse, and a host of problems and home and school.
Mindfulness can help young men quiet their overactive minds and tame turbulent hormones. It can help boys self-regulate their emotions and practice impulse control. Once learned, it will be a tool they can use for better mental health throughout their lives.
How to begin
In the beginning, boys may feel uncomfortable or silly practicing mindfulness techniques. They may see it as an admission that they are unwell or need help. But with patience, consistency, and some coaxing, there’s a good chance they will come around.
The main goal of a first attempt at practicing mindfulness is creating a positive experience. Here are a few tips to help achieve this:
- Leave the expectations behind. Take a relaxed and non judgemental approach. Teens can tell when adults are putting pressure on them. Making mindfulness something stressful or a point of contention completely undoes the point. If it works, it works. If not, try again at another time or in a different way. Just because your teen isn’t interested at this moment doesn’t mean they won’t be in the future.
- Give boys the choice. The decision whether or not to engage in mindfulness practices should be theirs. You really can’t force someone to be mindful anyway, so why try? It will only make for a negative experience, for both of you. Better to encourage them, and let them choose to give it a try themselves.
- Point out times they are mindful. Chances are, boys have already experienced a state of mindfulness without knowing it. Also called “being in the zone” or “flow”– it’s a state of heightened focus and immersion in something they enjoy. By drawing attention to how awesome they feel after a state of mindfulness, boys will be more open to try other methods to achieve those feelings again.
- Explain the science. Many adolescent boys are fascinated with the workings of the mind. Treating them like young adults who can handle difficult information is especially appealing. (Click here to watch Dr. Daniel Siegle’s TEDx talk on mindfulness, using his hand as a model for the brain.) The more they know and understand, the more open to it they’ll be.
- What’s in it for them? Teach teens that mindfulness practice is like training for their brain. They study for tests, they work out to get stronger, they practice a musical instrument or other skill, and they train for the sports they play. Brain training isn’t much different. If they want to master their thoughts and feelings, they need to learn and practice the skills to do so.
- There’s an app for that. If you’ve had a positive response from your teen to practicing mindfulness, there are lots of options to try next. You can find simple mindfulness exercises online, or enroll in an online class. There are some great apps that will lead them from the baby steps of mindfulness and on through more advanced techniques. A few of our favorites are Smiling Mind, InsightTimer, and Relax with AJ. A full list of resources can be found here.
Practicing mindfulness can empower young men to live calmer, more in-control lives. Mindfulness can be a powerful tool in their mental health toolkit for happier, healthier, more successful lives.
By Natalie Walker Whitlock, for The Forge School
If your child is having a mental health emergency, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text 741741 from anywhere in the country to talk with a trained crisis counselor.
This article is for informational purposes only and not to be considered medical advice.
The suggestions herein should be adapted to local and state laws and mandates, and your own individual and family circumstances.