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Healthy minds-ages 13 and up
Use these activities with your family to practice being mindful, learn ways to be more focused and engaged, and check out some useful tips about sleep.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a research-based tool that starts with purposefully bringing focus to thoughts, emotions, physical feelings and environment. It allows teens to learn how to pause, which can be very beneficial for them both in school and at home.
How can mindfulness help teens?
Teens are interested in how their brains work, and this TED Talk can be a useful tool to use with teens. It explains the structure of the brain and functions of each area using a hand as a model. Teaching teens that mindfulness is a form of training the brain can help get them motivated to use the practice.
Let teens know that practicing mindfulness can improve concentration, improve exam performance and reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. Be sure teens who are new to mindfulness know that this is a skill that they will get better at over time. In the beginning, it may be hard to keep their mind focused, but the more they practice, the easier it should become.
Other ways to practice mindfulness
Suggest that your teen keep a gratitude journal to help encourage them to slow down and pay attention to things they are grateful for. By participating in this exercise, over time teens learn to appreciate things big and small. Some may choose to create lists, write poems, or draw pictures.
Get a Hoberman sphere for your home to help practice breathing exercises. A Hoberman Sphere, or breathing ball, can help teach kids and teens mindful breathing. It can be used to demonstrate how the lungs fill with air and expand on the in-breath, then contract with the out-breath. It also serves as a point of focus, or anchor, for mindful breathing. Learn more about how to use a Hoberman sphere.
Have your teen make a mindful jar to teach them about how strong emotions can take hold, and how to find peace when these strong emotions come up. See how to make and use a mindful jar.
Mindfulness coloring that uses shapes and patterns can encourage a calming mindful experience. Search online for mindfulness/adult coloring books or for free samples.
Think of ways to keep mindfulness practices fresh and unique. For example, if you have a lava lamp at home your teen could use that to practice focused breathing.
Mindfulness and Take 5ive™ videos
The mindful jar activity can help teach children about how strong emotions can take hold, and how to find peace when these strong emotions come up. Watch the mindful jar video below to practice being mindful.
Using a Hoberman sphere, or breathing ball, can help teach kids mindful breathing. Watch the Hoberman sphere video below to practice mindful breathing.
These Take 5ive™ videos offer three types of guided exercises designed to develop focus and attention skills, cultivate everyday kindness, compassion and gratitude and reset and attune the mind-body connection through movement.
The videos feature calming nature scenes with voiced instructions throughout the practice or animations that are movement based. Remind them that it is common for the mind to wander and not to worry, just come back to the practice or movement and continue.
What is screen time?
Screen time includes watching TV, using a cell phone or tablet, working on a computer or playing video games. Because screen time is a sedentary activity, it can have a negative impact on overall health.
Kids 8-18 spend about 6 hours a day in front of a TV, watching videos or playing video games. When school-related screen time is included, that average increases to 7.5 hours daily.
Screen time guidelines
The recommendation is to limit screen time to a maximum of 2 hours each day.
Impact of screen time
Increased obesity, decreased energy and a more difficult time in school are potential impacts of too much screen time.
Aggressive behavior, due to the tendency of kids to copy what they see, is a potential impact of too much screen time as well. They are also exposed to commercials and advertisements, so consumption habits can be affected as well.
Screen time before bed
Screen time before bed can have a negative impact on the amount and quality of sleep that your teen gets. Using a screen before bed can cut into the time that your teen is getting ready for bed and the amount of time they spend asleep. Studies have also shown that the light emitted can increase alertness and impact the body's circadian rhythm.
At night, it's helpful to stop using screens about 30 minutes before bed. It's also helpful to charge electronic devices outside of the bedroom to reduce the temptation to use them. As a parent, it's important that you model these health enhancing behaviors as well.
How to reduce screen time
Modeling good behavior by reading books or getting outside to be active is a good way to help teens reduce their screen time. At home, encourage healthy behaviors and limit unhealthy ones to help build healthy habits.
Set boundaries and time frames so that your teen can engage in activities, like getting outside, reading, participating in music, the arts, or sports.
Watch out for any behavioral changes, such as increased irritability, aggressiveness, selfishness or impatience.
Avoid putting TVs in bedrooms to reduce screen time and improve the quality of sleep that teens, and their parents, get!
Video: Conversation starters | Reducing screen time
How much sleep teens need
It's recommended that teens get between 8 and 10 hours of quality sleep on school nights. Getting enough sleep will keep them healthy and help them do better in school.
Why sleep is important
Teen brains are still developing, and sleep is integral to this growing process. Getting enough sleep helps teens perform better in school and it helps protect their mental and emotional health, too! Teens who don't get enough sleep are prone to engage in risky behaviors, be irritable, have difficulty controlling emotions, and have an increased risk for depression and anxiety, as well as exercising poor judgment among other things.
Lack of sleep and drowsiness can also affect teens on the road. For teen drivers, getting enough sleep is incredibly important to reduce the chances of having an accident. Teens are twice as likely to be involved in a car accident if they don't get enough sleep.
How to help teens get enough sleep
Limiting screens in the bedroom can help teens get better sleep, and avoiding the use of screens 30 minutes before bed helps with falling asleep. Exercise has also been shown to improve the quality of sleep as well as overall health.
In the 4 hours before bedtime, it's important that teens don't have caffeine. Caffeine can be hidden in things like soft drinks, so be on the lookout. Eating too much or too little before bed can also have an impact on sleep due to discomfort that may be caused.
Having a routine at night can help to signal the body that it is time to wind down and go to bed. Also, a bedroom that is conducive to sleep is beneficial. It should be quiet, dark and cool to promote sleep. Sticking to a similar schedule and a routine on the weekends can help avoid disrupting your teen's body clock.
Balance and stress
Types of stress
There are three main types of stress: acute stress, episodic acute stress and chronic stress.
Acute stress is the most common type. This type of stress arises from demands and pressures from the past, current time and anticipated near-future demands. Too much acute stress can be exhausting, but it can be helpful in small doses.
Episodic acute stress is acute stress that happens frequently. People who worry ceaselessly experience this type of stress.
Chronic stress is the type that wears away at people day after day. Things like poverty or a dysfunctional home life would be examples of chronic stress. This type of stress occurs when people can't see a way out of a hopeless or miserable situation.
How to help teens manage stress
It's important that teens have someone to talk to when they're stressed. Deep breathing, progressive muscle relation and visualization of different situations can help to manage stress. Deep breathing, also called belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing, can help your teen (and you!) to ease stress. To do this, find a comfortable position and place one hand on your belly or your chest. Take one regular breath and notice how this feels. Next, take a slow, deep breath so that your belly swells and pause for a second or two. Slowly, breathe out until your belly returns to normal. Do this several times.
Progressive muscle relaxation is another technique to help ease stress. To do this, contract one muscle group for 5 to 1 seconds while inhaling. On the exhale, release the tension in that muscle group. Give yourself 10 to 20 seconds to relax before moving onto the next muscle group. It can be helpful to go from the top of the body down or from the bottom up.
Visualization is the practice of imagining or envisioning a situation and the outcome that you wish to achieve. This mental practice can help to decrease feelings of worry or anxiety.
Setting small goals and getting regular exercise can also help to manage stress. Eating regularly and getting enough sleep without relying on caffeine or energy drinks can also help with this management. Changing the focus on things that can be controlled has been shown to be beneficial, and working through different scenarios out loud can help as well. Work on making expectations realistic, and schedule time to decompress and relax.
How to know when it's too much
Too much stress can result in physical and emotional symptoms. Headache, stomachache, muscle pain and feelings of tiredness are physical symptoms that can present when there is too much stress. Shutting down or withdrawing from people and activities along with anger and feelings of irritability can be a result of too much stress. Feelings of hopelessness, crying, anxiety and nervousness can be symptoms of too much stress as well. You also may notice that your teen has changes in their sleeping and eating patterns. If you see or notice any of these symptoms, be sure to talk to your teen about how they feeling and discuss what they can try to ease some of the stress. If you suspect a serious problem, please contact your child's physician.