on Teen Life

Monday, January 16, 2012

Mindfulness for Youth—Bridging Hearts and Minds

Mindfulness for youth is growing in leaps and bounds in educational, clinical and community settings throughout the world. Why is this? The simple answer—mindfulness works! There is evidence-based research supporting this (click here for articles). 

I recently had the honor of interviewing Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and author of three books, the latest being Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time. As Hanson puts it, mindfulness training is a fundamental kind of literacy. It's a way of controlling our most fundamental property—our attention. In fact it's sometimes referred to as “attentional control.” In part, mindfulness can be a gateway to changing the brain, which fortunately has the ability to grow and be rewired.

Unfortunately, many teens feel as if they don’t have much control at all, as they’re always being told what to do and how to do it by parents, coaches, teachers, peers, the media, etc. Having personally worked with thousands of suffering teens professionally, I’ve seen how mindfulness training, even in small doses, can be extremely beneficial. Hanson, who has worked with youth in both psychotherapy and education, says mindfulness can help young adults learn and recognize that they do, in fact, have power and control, and can adjust their own minds. He’ll often ask them, “Who is in charge of your attention? Are you a hammer or a nail when it comes to your attention? Most people are nails being pounded on all day long.” 

Gaining control of attention is particularly important for youth. Not only is attention the foundation for learning, but it also helps teens stay positive. It can be difficult to pull attention away from what people are so commonly driven toward noticing—the negative. When youth learn to control their attention, they can focus on positive moments and the things that are good for them. Youth need to be taught that they have the capacity to focus and change how they view their world, how they react, how they choose to respond to given life situations and where they choose to put their attention.

My keen interest in bringing mindfulness training to youth encouraged me to become co-creator and organizer of an upcoming conference, Bridging Hearts and Minds, which will take place on February 4-5 through UCSD’s Center for Mindfulness in San Diego, CA. We have many phenomenal speakers lined up. My vision, in planning such a conference, was to create, and where appropriate, strengthen a bridge between two disciplines: education and mental health. Though the two don’t often interact, there is good reason to bring them together. Our youth are suffering in a variety of ways—physically, psychologically, socially, etc. It’s time we come together and work to help reduce their stress, as it affects every part of their lives.  

Rick will be a keynote speaker at the conference, and will graciously open the event on February 3rd with a public offering, “Taking in the Good: Helping Children Build Inner Strength and Happiness.” And by-the-way, his new book is a perfect place to begin learning mindfulness. It offers fifty-two very simple, down-to-earth, time-tested, proven things you can do to change your brain for the better. (To read an excerpt from the book, click here.)

My latest endeavor is to bring Stressed Teens (the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Teens program), to the virtual world. Current programs are specifically geared toward professionals, parents and teens. For details, click here, or send an email to training@stressedteens.com.

Hope to see you at Bridging Hearts and Minds

posted by Gina Biegel, 11:45 am