My son thought meditation was weird. He thought it was a hippie thing.
Teenagers can be eager, willing and as absorbent as sponges. And they can be stubborn, difficult and resistant. My son has been my most challenging student. I teach and guide meditations to adults and teenagers, always encouraging my boy to join and always receiving a polite decline.
He thought it was weird. He thought it was different. He thought it was a hippie thing. Sigh.
Then one day I received a text from him. “I just meditated in English,” it said. I was thrilled, immediately filled with joy, exhilaration and hope. I immediately texted him back asking him how it was and he replied, “We just focused on the breath. It wasn’t a big deal.”
Ironically it was this high school teacher that finally opened him up to the idea of meditation. He made it okay. Apparently all the other students were fine with meditating too, so maybe it wasn’t so weird after all.
And while my son didn’t agree to meditate with me every day (“don’t push it mom”), he agreed to meditate with me weekly. We call it Meditation Monday. Monday is now my favorite day of the week. Our practice together has proven to not only teach my son about meditation, it has strengthened our relationship. He is much more open after our sessions. Meditation has broken down barriers between us.
Through my humble experience of teaching teens in a studio environment (wherein they are self selected), in a classroom setting (wherein they are showing up for school and may not be interested) and at home (my teenage boy half reluctantly and half enthusiastically agreeing to learn the practice), I have listed the top eight tips for teaching teens to meditate:
#1. You are a role model.
As a parent, it can be endearing or shocking when you hear your own words uttered from your child. Whether teaching your own teenager or others, teenagers will look to you as their role model. Students are reflections of their teachers. The quote by Lewis Cass sums it up beautifully: “People may doubt what you say, but they will believe what you do.” Meditate every day. And meditate right before teaching to cultivate an inner sense of love (and patience).
#2. Don’t try too hard.
This advice was shared by my son the day before teaching my first high school class. “Don’t try to be that cool teacher that thinks they relate to the kids,” he said. “And what the heck does that mean?” I replied bright eyed and bewildered. He gave me specifics: don’t use trendy slang or references; don’t pretend or assume you know what teenagers are feeling and don’t push too hard. He told me… just be yourself! I like it!
#3. And at the same time, relate and be relevant.
Do this authentically and be subtle (see #2—Don’t try too hard). I focus on the many sports teams, professional athletes, popular actresses and singers who all practice meditating (and even slip in a few lyrics from popular rappers… again subtle.) I am also sure to share the benefits of meditation and how it could improve their relationships with friends, boost academic performance and help them in their sports. Relate lessons to the real world and apply content to everyday situations. Allow plenty of time for students to share their own experiences.
#4. KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid).
Okay, I didn’t learn this phrase in my meditation teachings but it sure applies. Keep the meditations short and simple. A body scan, breath awareness or even some visualization meditations are good places to start. Leave the chakra meditations for another time.
#5. Make technology work for you.
Yes, too much technology is not helping teenagers be mindful. Teenagers are addicted to their computer and phone. And so are adults. We need to unplug. But wait! Before we do, let’s just use it to our advantage… just this once (or twice).
Engage teenagers by showing videos when possible. Interviews, TED talks… reinforce your teaching with another voice. (I love the Oprah interview with Phil Jackson wherein he talks about teaching meditation to the LA Lakers and Chicago Bulls.) And be sure to share the many meditation and mindfulness apps to support a practice. I recommend Insight Timer (which includes hundreds of guided meditations) but I know there are other favorites such as Headspace and Calm. Most apps are free.
#6. Don’t force it.
Teenagers need to be willing to practice meditation and mindfulness. You can’t “make” anyone meditate, including your own child. Be patient. Practice your own meditation and be a role model first.
#7. Don’t take it personally.
Are you familiar with the Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz? One to remember when teaching teens to meditate is not to take things personally. When your teenager doesn’t want to participate, rolls their eyes or shoots you a funny look when you are teaching them, don’t take it personally. Remember…
#8. You are planting seeds.
I would love to think that I am changing lives by sharing meditation but sometimes I have to remember that my job is simply to plant seeds. If I can touch just one teen to wake up to a more mindful life, if I can touch just one teen with the tools to bring a bit of peace into a stressful life; if I can touch just one teen to be less angry, less aggressive…well then, that seed has bloomed. And a blooming flower is beautiful, especially when it is your own son.
It took years of planting seeds (and a high school teacher to help that seed sprout) for my boy to start a mediation practice. I am patient as I tend the garden. Meditation Monday still reigns and I consider it our most sacred time together.
After meditating, my son becomes gentle, open and kind. And don’t we all? Meditation has that way. In fact meditation just may be the most important gift shared with our children—a tool to build more focus, self awareness and compassion. A tool that can help decrease stress and risk of depression. A tool that can help teens become better listeners, less judgmental and yes…even more gentle, open and kind.
Begin by being their role model and let them see you meditating. Ask them to join you. If you receive a polite decline, ask them again in a few days…not taking anything personally. Not pushing too hard. Spark their curiosity with casual discussion about your practice. And while it took years of planting seeds for my son, not all teenagers are quite so resistant.
I have taught many willing teens that are eager to jump right in and start a practice (head first so to speak). After all, it only takes one seed for a flower to bloom. Be that seed.
Author: Christine Rolfe
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Caleb Roenigk/Flickr