Here is a list of some of the mindfulness tools Dr Ruston has tried and likes:
A huge part of meditation practice is learning how to get better at paying attention to what you want to pay attention to, rather than being pulled by random thoughts that pop into your head. This practice helps build the "attention" muscle. It's all about getting more insight into your patterns in order to direct attention to more helpful thoughts.
In Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER, Dr. Ruston visits her daughter Tessa's high school, where for a few minutes on Tuesdays, many classrooms take a few minutes for quiet time. Some teachers lead a guided mindfulness meditation and students are able to participate or choose not to. No one is ever forced to close their eyes or partake.
Delaney films one teacher as she leads the class. She tells the students, "So the invitation this week is to notice when you're starting to be critical of yourself and just notice. 'Can I shift what I'm focusing on away from that?'"
When Delaney's son Chase was in 10th grade, he sustained a major concussion, which led to more than four years of chronic pain. He would have medical workups for many symptoms that he had on and off over the years. There were months when he would feel discouraged, angry, and sad that he had so many unexplained physical problems that kept him from being able to be physically active.
Eventually, Chase started using apps to teach himself mindfulness meditation. He particularly loved learning from George Mumford, who has been teaching meditation to professional athletes like as Michael Jordan.
In Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER, Chase listens to Mumford on an app. Then Chase talks about how learning mindfulness meditation helped him deal with his chronic pain. He says:
“There’s the sensation of pain, but then I add the stress of being in pain and the emotional baggage of the history of the pain and the uncertainty of the future of the pain. And I recognize that I actually have a lot more control over this than I thought. So in my day-to-day when I’m in physical or emotional pain, I can be mindful of the negative layers that are building up on top of it and intervene before they themselves cause unnecessary suffering.”
Chase actually ended up doing a 10 day silent meditation retreat in Washington state during a gap year before starting college. For ten days, they did not talk and meditated for about 10 hours a day. He said, not surprisingly, that it was the hardest thing he ever did, but that he was so glad he did it.
Meditation can help people get better at being able to consciously stop for a split second to notice what is happening and make a decision on how to act instead of just reacting on a whim. For example, when a person is sitting at a table with friends and has an urge to check their phone, mindfulness might help them get better at being able to notice the urge and not respond to it, letting it pass instead. In that moment of consciousness (mindfulness, attention, awareness), the person can respond with a choice: Do I want to give the signal to my friends that I am not genuinely engaging with them? Do I want to leave where I am virtually? Or, do I want to stay focused on my friends and take a big breath letting the urge to check my phone pass?
Kids and teens can surely relate to the issue of having said something during a video game they regretted or having posted a comment they wish they hadn’t. Talking to them about getting better at pressing a mental pause button is definitely a good discussion topic.
Another benefit of meditation is the ability each of us has to activate our parasympathetic nervous system by relaxing and breathing calmly. Students at schools where mindfulness is being incorporated into classrooms share how helpful it is to learn how to use breathing exercises to handle stress better.
As a physician, Delaney has experience helping a lot of patients through panic attacks. In severe cases, patients genuinely believe they are experiencing a heart attack or some other lethal event. Part of the treatment is to gently guide the person to start to breathe more calmly — since often they are breathing at a faster rate than they would normally. This activity helps activate their natural stress reduction system called the parasympathetic system.
Mindfulness practices frequently use the term "begin again." Many meditation teachers use this phrase to convey the idea that when you have the goal of picking a focus point, whatever you decide — it could be your breath, or the feeling of one's feet on the floor or the sounds of birds — your mind will soon start to wander. When that happens, you just "begin again." The cool thing is that the need to begin again should not be viewed as a moment of failure but rather a win, because you realized your mind was wandering, and you redirected your brain back to your focus point.
Recognizing when we are off course and then gently bringing the focus back can help in real life. When we set up goals and then digress, it's easy to completely give up rather than calmly remind ourselves to "begin again."
We can use the same skill to prevent getting overly frustrated when we express behavior that we don't want to do. Instead, we just begin again.
When parents push kids or teens to do something like meditation, even gently, it can very often turn them off. In Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER, Delaney has a conversation with Tessa about a weekly teen group that she started going to. She tells Delaney that she is going "... because you didn't get involved... unlike when you emailed the debate club, and I won't go back."
For those kids and teens that are interested, there are many many apps and YouTube videos that provide lessons on how to get started with mindfulness meditation.