Do you have a stressed out or anxious teen in your life? Do they get easily overwhelmed or overly emotional about school-related pressures, posts on social media, issues with friends or relationships, or juggling extra responsibilities like sports or part-time jobs? Are they dealing with bullying by peers or worrying about the family’s financial troubles? Are they struggling with changes in their appearance or the stress of exams and college applications? Does their mental well-being seem to be worsening because they aren’t getting enough sleep, possibly due to time spent on their devices?
If this sounds like the teen in your life, you’re not alone. According to a poll conducted in 2022 on behalf of the National Institute on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 6 teens (17%) said they feel negative emotions “all the time” or “often,” with teen girls being more likely than boys to be feeling anxiety and stress specifically. As many as 1 in 4 teens (25%) have been diagnosed with a mental health condition. Given that there are about 42 million teens in the U.S., these staggering statistics are telling an alarming story: Millions of teens in the U.S. are struggling and need helpful strategies to improve their well-being and feel better.
Further, according to a recent advisory issued by the U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, more than a third of teens say they are on social media “almost constantly” and 95% of all teens reported using social media. In a longitudinal study of more than 6,500 teens described in the advisory, teens ages 12-15 were twice as likely to experience mental health challenges, like depression and anxiety, if they spent more than 3 hours each day on social media. The advisory warns that “social media can have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.” Social media use provides potential exposure to harmful or worrying content online and can negatively impact a teen’s quantity of sleep and their in-person connections with family and friends. The Surgeon General has issued an urgent call to action to create healthy digital environments for young people. We’ve shared some of the suggestions in the list below.
Fortunately, there are many things that can help reverse these trends, and “being mindful” is one of these things. What does being mindful actually mean? When we slow down, bring our attention to the present moment, notice what is happening inside of us and around us, and make healthy and intentional choices that support our well-being, we are being mindful. When we don’t let our minds get lost in unhelpful or obsessive thoughts and instead are aware the moment our mind begins to go in a risky direction—and in that moment redirect our attention to something more helpful—that is being mindful. When we allow ourselves to experience difficult emotions without avoiding them, suppressing them, or getting carried away by them, we are being mindful. And being mindful is a skill that everyone can grow.
Many teens haven’t learned how to be mindful—it’s rarely taught in school, and parents often don’t know enough about it to teach it to their kids. However, parents can easily create the environment at home for teens to become more mindful and practice this important life skill. Here are 5 ways you can do this today:
- Create tech-free meal zones—Consider making family meals a device-free zone and use meal time for asking meaningful questions and engaging in conversations that help develop bonds in the family. Without the distraction of devices, and given an expectation to answer questions when asked, your teen will be practicing keeping their attention in the present moment and expressing their thoughts and emotions in a healthy way, while also developing their social skills.
- Restrict device use around bedtime—To prevent devices from interfering with your teen’s sleep, limit device use at least 1 hour before they go to sleep and throughout the night, as some teens may stay up very late on social media or wake up and get right back on their device. Creating this environment will also help your teen become more mindful of the amount of time they spend on their device (because they aren’t always on it) and see the value of device-free life moments.
- Be mindful of your own social media use—As a parent, be a good role model by limiting your own social media use during meals and around bedtime. Your teen needs to see that you also see the value in following the same rules you expect them to follow. This will also allow you to practice slowing down, noticing when you’re on your device, appreciating time spent off your device, and so on. When you embrace the present moment yourself, you give your teen a glimpse into the what’s possible for them, too.
- Remember that strong emotions are normal and fleeting in teens—Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard neuroscientist who has one of the most popular TED Talks of all time, also recorded a TEDx talk about how the teenage brain handles strong emotions (watch it here). Just having greater awareness about how the teenage brain works and how long emotions actually last (about 90 seconds!) can help parents and teens better navigate the ups and downs of teen life. Paying attention to the emotion as we experience it and not getting carried away by it is a mindful and healthy approach—and as Dr. Taylor says, “let’s keep ‘em alive till [age] 25!”.
- Encourage your teen to look around the room or go for a mindful walk—Bringing your attention to the present moment can be as easy as looking around the room you’re in and seeing what catches your attention (like you’re visiting a museum!) or going for a walk outside and noticing the sights, sounds, smells, and even textures of nature. Becoming interested and curious about the texture of the paint on a wall, the colors of leaves on the trees, the smells of different flowers, etc. can help pull you out of a spiral of difficult thoughts and emotions.
Want another idea? Get your teen engaged at the Y! The Y has many opportunities for teens to get off their devices and engage in person with others, move their bodies, express their emotions in healthy ways, and learn about being more mindful. Visit the Y of Greater Houston’s website to learn more about our teen programs, and we hope you and your teen find many moments to be mindful throughout each day.
#Mindfulness #Stress #Mentalhealth #Teens #Socialmedia #ForABetterUs
About the Author
Wendy Saunders is a Certified Teacher and Facilitator through Emory University in CBCT® (Cognitively-Based Compassion Training) and SEE Learning®, a K-12 educational program designed to build social, emotional, and ethical competencies through attention training, compassion cultivation, and trauma-informed resiliency skills. Wendy is also a facilitator of the Community Resiliency Model (CRM) ®, a program of the Trauma Resource Institute, the Founder of Compassionate Leader, LLC, and has worked with thousands of people in business, non-profit, education, and healthcare organizations across the country and internationally to cultivate mindfulness, compassion, resilience, and leadership skills.