In recent years it has become apparent that teenagers are under more pressure now than generations before them. With added exam pressures, mounting homework and social pressures splashed over social media, it is no wonder that teenagers now report higher levels of stress.
In Nicola Morgan’s, What we know about the teenage brain and what it means for teachers she discusses the changes that affect the teenage brain, and how we can be more aware of these changes. The prefrontal cortex, for example, doesn’t stop developing until mid to late 20s. This part of the brain is responsible for managing emotions, controlling focus, making decisions and empathy. So, are there techniques we can use to help teenagers manage their emotions and stress levels to prevent any negative impact on their language learning?
Mindfulness in Education
Mindfulness and meditation are powerful tools that teens can use to manage their stress and emotional resilience to deal with life’s struggles. More and more schools are starting to introduce mindfulness and meditation into the curriculum; the UK has just introduced mindfulness in 370 English schools as part of a mental health trial.
Recent studies have shown that mindfulness can have mental, emotional and social benefits in young people, it can:
- reduce stress
- reduce anxiety and bad behaviour
- improve memory
- enhance problem solving skills and allow them to think in more innovative ways
- improve self-esteem and sleep quality
- increase compassion and kindness
- improvements to physical health and overall wellbeing, including lower blood pressure. (Weare, 2012)
There are many different types of meditation such as visualisation and mantras, but mindfulness is when you give your full attention to an object, such as your environment, your body or breathing. It can be practised when you are walking around or sitting quietly with your eyes closed. Practicing mindfulness will allow your students to quieten their minds, to spend less time in their head replaying nagging worries and anxieties.
Mindfulness of breathing for teens
You can guide your teenage learners with a gentle mindfulness of breathing practice like the below. This could be done for 5 minutes, allowing plenty of time for ample pauses.
- Sit in a comfortable posture, with your feet flat on the floor, your back upright and eyes closed to remove external distractions.
- Begin by tuning into just sitting here – being aware of the room we are in, the external noises and the feeling of contact with the chair.
- Now begin to focus on your breathing. Noticing the rise and fall of your stomach as you breath or the feeling of air passing in and out of your nose. Paying attention to these sensations.
- Feeling an in-breath, travelling in through your nose, into your lungs as they expand, expanding your chest and then your stomach.
- Feeling an out-breath, as the air moves back out of your lungs, your stomach and chest deflate and the air moves back out of your nose.
- Watching this natural rhythm for a few moments.
- Perhaps just watching the rising and fall of your stomach or counting before each in breath. If you lose count just come back to 1 again.
- Appreciating the breath and feeling comfortable with just sitting here. Nothing to do right now but just focus on your breath.
- If thoughts and preoccupations arise, just acknowledge the thought without judgement and then bring your focus back to your breathing.
After some time of focussing on the breath…
- And now just begin to bring more awareness to the room we are in, the feeling of contact with the chair, starting to bring some movement back into your body – wiggling your fingers and toes – and when you are ready just open your eyes.
If you would prefer not to guide this yourself or for longer meditations, there are many guided practises on YouTube and Spotify to play to the class as well. Optimal time for a meditation would be 20 minutes.
Engage your students
To help your students reap the benefits of mindfulness, it would help to explain that it is impossible to stop all thought entirely but any reduction in thinking can be massively beneficial. Allowing them the time to sit back and look at the problems before them calmly and to tune into their intuition when solving those problems. It will take practice to cultivate a relaxed state of mind but with time and more practice, it becomes easier to access that state of calm.
I have meditated for 10 years, starting when I was 18 and encourage adults and teenagers alike to do the same. At Cambridge University Press I run a weekly guided meditation class open to all colleagues and at the 2019 Better Learning Conference, we introduced mindfulness as an optional morning session for the first time. Delegates took part in a 20 minute guided meditation before the conference talks which received really positive feedback, we hope to do the same again next year.
To learn more about the teenage brain, read Nicola Morgan’s blog What we know about the teenage brain and what it means for teachers.
Evidence for the Impact of Mindfulness on Children and Young People, Katherine Weare, Mindfulness in Schools Project, April 2012.