I recently went to Hawaii for the first time, and a friend suggested we go snorkeling to experience the beautiful tropical fish firsthand. I try to be open-minded about checking out new things and I enjoy seeing with fresh eyes, so even though I had learned to swim only a few years ago, I said yes straight away. But it wasn’t long before fear and worry set in. I began to think about how I wasn’t a very good swimmer, how I often get motion sickness, and that I would probably get seasick. I was sure the fish would bite me. This flood of thoughts about my past and my future filled my mind and offset any anticipated enjoyment.
In the same way, I’ve noticed that many of the teens I work with worry excessively about things that are out of their control. They believe it will change the outcome of what they’re worrying about—which we know from hard experience isn’t the case. One of the simplest techniques I use with teenagers is to help them notice when they’re engaging in these past/future thoughts and help them see that worries can’t change outcomes, no matter how much we would like them to. This small step can often shift their thinking and lead to increased present-moment awareness.
I began to use mindfulness with teenagers in my psychotherapy practice when I saw that techniques that had traditionally been used with adults in the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program could work well with teens. Not only were teens “getting it,” they were soaking it up like sponges. I found they were often more open to the practices than adults, if they were explained in teen language. Unlike many of the other interventions I was using from other traditional psychotherapies, I saw that mindfulness techniques and interventions dramatically and quickly improved teens’ quality of life. They reduced stress and gave the teens strength from within to solve their problems, which often led to a shift away from “poor me” or judgmental thinking. I’ve now been systematically teaching these techniques for more than seven years.
In this blog, I will share with you my experience working in the world of teen life through stories, insights, and advice—sometimes mine and sometimes what I’ve learned from others. Some of the posts will be directed to teens, some to parents, and some to professionals. I’ll try to be sure that all the posts will also be of broad interest, no matter which audience they’re mainly directed to. Enjoy!