Mindfulness and Adolescence
By Hwaa Irfan
A recent study by the University of Cambridge found that mindfulness in adolescent boys increases well-being. After a 4-week crash course in mindfulness, 14 -25 year old boys (155 boys in total) from two independent British schools , the boys were found to express more positive emotions: happiness, contentment, interest, and affection.
- “More and more we are realising the importance of supporting the overall mental health of children. Our study demonstrates that this type of training improves well-being in adolescents and that the more they practice, the greater the benefits. Importantly, many of the students genuinely enjoyed the exercises and said they intended to continue them — a good sign that many children would be receptive to this type of intervention.
“Another significant aspect of this study is that adolescents who suffered from higher levels of anxiety were the ones who benefitted most from the training,” reported Professor Felicia Huppert of the Well-being Institute at the University of Cambridge.
The crash course involved being conscious awareness of experiences (paying attention), learning how to be in the present, avoiding judgment calls for 40 minutes, one session/class per week. They were encouraged to practice what they learnt in the sessions outside of the classroom, and to listen to a CD/Mp3 file for 8 minutes daily. In self development/spiritual terms this is referred to wakefulness, or learning to be awake as sessions included practicing bodily awareness (contact with their chairs, or the floor, etc), beign attentive of their breathing, and noticing all the sensations involved in walking.
“We believe that the effects of mindfulness training can enhance well-being in a number of ways. If you practice being in the present, you can increase positive feelings by savouring pleasurable on-going experiences. Additionally, calming the mind and observing experiences with curiosity and acceptance not only reduces stress but helps with attention control and emotion regulation — skills which are valuable both inside and outside the classroom,” commented Huppert.
The Myth of the Adolescent Angst!
One can only assume that the reason only boys were included in the study/research is because in general adolescent boys are not expected to be mindful, but both boys and girls could benefit from such a program. Society exacerbates their senses by feeding them with contradictory information – to not be concerned about their actions, to focus on the physical, what attracts, the desires, to be unreliable, to be rude, and to do as they please. If one only looks across cultures to see how the adolescent behave, traditional and modern, rural and urban, one can see that this is not quite true. If it was true, then all adolescents would behave the same both in the past and the present. Unfortunately, those adolescents who are raised in a religious upbringing, have parents who increasingly believe this to be true and through their lack of mindfulness, their youth often go astray to their dismay, or the myth becomes real to youth who feel caught between the what society says and what their parents have taught them. Unfortunately, this myth-cum-reality is difficult for many to grow out of, simply because in the process one does not fair well when it comes to taking on commitment in later life whether it pertains to marriage, family or society at large. Negative emotions become the way of viewing reality, and also prolong immaturity. This is moreso at a time when the adolescent ego is struggling to come into alignment with their cognitive development. The myth-cum-reality is in fact a man-made construct perpetuated by the typpe of society in which they live. Increasingly, we find the youth are subject to mental illnesses, without investigating, why, and when research has been done, not enough attention is paid to applying an adequate action plan to correct the system that subjects them to mental ill health.
By teaching mindfulness, the adolescent boy or girl learns to keep in touch with themselves instead of the external influences, and has a greater chance of understanding their own needs, and recognizing how best to spend their time. Fortunately the above study has led to a curriculum in mindfulness for schools in both the state and the private sector – let us pray that this idea spreads and continues to reap benefit.
For further information, see http://mindfulnessinschools.org.
University of Cambridge (2010, September 1). Mindfulness Meditation Increases Well-Being in Adolescent Boys, Study Finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 5, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬ /releases/2010/09/100901111720.htm
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