Be present. Live in the moment. Take everything a moment at a time.
What does all of this have in common? It’s wonderful, sage advice that approximately 12 people actually listen to because the rest of us are too busy being anxious about tomorrow and three weeks from Tuesday that we cannot possibly live in the moment.
Sad, but true, right? I would love to be more mindful. In fact, I’m a saint when it comes to teaching my four little ones about mindfulness. I’m all about living in the moment and being present. It’s not hard for me to put my phone down and live for the right now – lest there are photos to be taken – but my mind is not, well, mindful. It’s busy thinking about all the imaginary things my colorful (and obnoxiously creative) mind has made up for me to stress about (no, it’s not just you…we are all a little bit crazy and some of us just hide it well, you are not alone).
Practicing mindfulness sounds easy, but it’s probably one of the most difficult things to do. Quieting a loud, noisy mind is…a challenge. However, practicing mindfulness (yes, even if you suck at it) is always a good idea. After all, you are the role model in your kids lives, and they need to learn the art of mindful behavior. Even if your mindfulness is faux mindfulness, it’s worthwhile.
What is Mindfulness?
The dictionary is so technical, but okay. It’s a noun (say it with me – a person, place, or a thing). It means “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something,” and “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique,” and this is why I’m not a fan of technical definitions. Does that not sound like…exactly the same thing but worded differently?
I digress. Mindfulness is, essentially, being present in the moment and aware of your thoughts. It means being aware of everything going on inside you from your feelings to your thoughts, and it’s the art of really knowing yourself. But don’t let the technical definitions scare you away – mindfulness is much more streamlined than Webster (that is the dictionary guy, right?) tells us.
What are the Benefits of Mindfulness?
We are very much a ‘what’s in it for me’ society. Why am I practicing mindfulness and teaching my kids to do the same? What’s the benefit? Don’t feel guilty for asking – it’s second nature. Why do something if it’s not for a good reason, no? There are numerous benefits to practicing mindfulness (for both you and your kids…it really is important they learn to do this).
- Reduced stress
- Decreased risk of developing depression
- Improved memory function
- Improved relationships
- An improved attitude
If for no other reason, doesn’t improving your attitude seem worthwhile (asks the woman whose road rage rivals the rage the sea witch has at the end of The Little Mermaid when she has that whole ocean whirlpool thing going on and she’s trying to take everyone down with her if she can’t have things her way)?
Decreased Risk of Depression
In all seriousness, the benefits of mindfulness are substantial. According to a study from the Boston University School of Public Health, the national depression rate increased significantly in 2021 and now affects approximately 1 in 3 people (I believe this study is adult-oriented). That’s a lot of people suffering from depression. I myself suffer from anxiety, and practicing mindfulness – even when I’m not perfect or even very good at it – helps tremendously. Practicing mindfulness, according to Very Well Mind, has the ability to reduce depression symptoms. Sometimes, it can even prevent certain symptoms from reoccurring.
A Better Attitude
Therapists refer to this as emotional regulation. I call it an attitude adjustment (shout out to my mom and dad who spent my childhood calmly telling me they’d give me something to cry about if I didn’t learn to appreciate what I had). Trust me when I say I know it’s impossible in the moment, but we can control our emotions and our reactions. Practicing mindfulness helps us learn to do just that. Learning to recognize how we feel and the sensations that go along with that in the moment is how we learn emotional regulation.
While we’ve been fortunate with our own teenager who has yet to become an emotional basket case of WTF moments, I was an emotional basket case teenager filled with WTF moments back in the day. Teens haven’t learned to regulate their emotions yet, and practicing mindfulness is a surefire way to hep them understand how to control their emotions, reactions, and their own happiness.
Less Stress and Anxiety
High-functioning anxiety-ridden overthinking lunatic here: No one wants their teen to grow up feeling the way I feel on the inside. That’s why I work so hard to teach my own kids about mindfulness practices. I never want anyone to feel the way I feel.
In all honesty, though, it’s imperative you understand that you cannot get rid of stress and anxiety completely. However, understanding that is so important. You don’t want to get rid of stress and anxiety completely. It’s not all bad. It’s the stuff that motivates you and allows you to function and be prepared.
Your anxiety tells you that your new baby will have an accident and spit up (or worse) all over you on a flight, so you pack yourself an extra outfit in the diaper bag just in case. That’s not a bad thing. It’s a prepared parent thing – and that’s when stress and anxiety are good. It’s a conversation you want to have with your teen.
What was I talking about? I’m only kidding. Kind of. I practice mindfulness. I’m not always good at it. Sometimes I fail, but I can say with certainty that I do not notice even a marked improvement in my own memory, so there’s that. Other people, such as actual doctors and mental health professionals, however, do see improvement here, so let’s just go with them on this one.
When you are able to learn to focus on how you feel, what makes you feel that way, and you get to know yourself better, you tend to have more patience. You’re a better listener. You become more empathetic. You also learn to communicate your feelings to others. When you add all these things together, you become better at relationships. What’s not to love about that?
So, What Are Some Mindfulness Activities I can Teach My Teen?
Mindfulness is not something you can teach in a day (when in Rome or whatever). That is why it’s called mindfulness practice and not mindfulness professional (I know, I know…my dad jokes are not good). All jokes aside, teaching our teens how to practice mindfulness is a process. They’ll learn from some activities, and they’ll probably roll their eyes a lot and absolutely hate others. It’s fine. Everything is fine. Here are 20 mindfulness activities for your teens (and you, and your younger kids, and your spouse, and your in-laws):
Very Simple Mindfulness Activities
1. Practice Mediation
2. Practice Yoga
3. Breath exercises
4. Mindful eating (you are what you eat, and your body does not respond well or function fully when you eat garbage)
5. Take a walk or get regular exercise. Ideally, you want to focus on 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise. Walking, biking, running, cardio, weights, dancing, sports, whatever, just move your ass.
6. Take a B.R.E.A.K. – breathe, rest, empower yourself with three great, nice, super kind words about yourself, absorb how you’re feeling one sense at a time, find knowledge in how you’re feeling and what that might mean.
7. Write in a journal.
8. Use a gratitude journal every morning and evening (my favorite is from Amazon, and it’s like $10 or less)
9. Brain dump – take a few minutes to sit down and write down how you feel. Don’t worry if it makes any sense or if it’s spelling correctly or reads well. Just get it out. It’s helpful.
10. Watch the sunrise/sunset quietly without speaking. How do you feel? What do you sense?
Slightly More Complex Mindfulness Activities
11. Put your phone and other electronics away one hour before bed and do not use them the first hour you are awake in the mornings.
12. Ground yourself – lie on the grass, stand barefoot in the sand, climb a tree. Get close to nature and really be quiet, still, and focused on how you feel and the sunshine on your face.
13. Create a personal mantra – just a quick statement you can repeat to yourself when you feel your mind racing and your anxiety taking over. It can be anything that makes you feel good or strong.
14. Draw your feelings using specific colors – use colors that match your mood when you’re drawing. For example, red might mean you’re mad, blue might mean you’re sad, etc.
15. Write down three things every evening that you appreciate or that made you feel good that day. These do not need to be big things. They can be something as small as a stranger smiling at you or someone holding and door.
16. Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts. For every negative thought you have about yourself. You’re re-training your mind to seek the positive.
17. Do something nice for someone else without thinking about it.
18. Focus on your senses. When you’re really anxious, mad, sad, or not feeling amazing, practice focusing on your senses. Find something you can see and describe everything about it. Find something you can smell, touch, taste, and hear. Now describe in as much detail as you can what each item has.
19. Get wet. Shower, swim, whatever – just get in the water and ‘wash’ the negative off of you.
20. Give your anxiety a name. Mine is Anxiety Annie. Giving her a name and an identity of her own has taught me that my feelings of anxiety are not who I am, but they are a visitor. Sometimes, Annie has some really valuable intel to provide. Other times, Anxiety Annie shows up unannounced and at a bad time, and it’s up to me to tell her she’s got to go.
Practicing Mindfulness is A Necessary Tool
It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. Not that we are old. Or dogs. But you’re picking up what I’m putting down. It’s so hard for us to learn new things because we have a few years of experience, practice, and bad habits, and we are really ingrained in our ways. Our kids are still young, and their weird, darling little minds (yes, even your eye-rolling, heavy sighing, eyebrow-raising teens) are still easily shaped and molded. They can learn new things so much easier than we can (like your own mom refusing to learn to use the internet or text messages).
Practicing mindfulness is a lifelong tool our kids will take with them. They’ll take their learned techniques into the classroom, the boardroom, their relationships, and their own parenting. They’ll be better people for it, and that’s why we focus on teaching our kids to be more mindful. And, hey, if we learn to be a little more mindful in the moment, there is nothing wrong with that.
*If you suspect your child is suffering from anxiety or depression, please consult a medical professional right away. Talk to your child, call your child’s doctor, or reach out to the crisis hotline at 800-273-8255 to speak with a crisis counselor 24/7.