Out of the dozens of meditation and mindfulness apps out there, how do you know which one is right for your teen? It’s not one-size-fits-all. We’ve researched and tested the best of the best and think these four apps offer the best experience for the needs of different teens. Bonus: they’re great for parents, too!
BEST FOR: A BASIC, WELL-ORGANIZED INTRODUCTION TO MEDITATION AND MINDFULNESS
Headspace is the most popular meditation app for adults, so you’re probably familiar with it already. If you have a tween, the app offers specialized content for 9-12 year-olds on the themes of Calm, Focus, Kindness, Sleep, and Wake Up. It makes it simple to introduce kids to meditation and help them integrate it into their daily routine. For teens 13 and up, we love the well-organized library, fun and friendly graphic interface, and no-pressure vibe that makes meditation easy for beginners. Headspace sends reminders to teens to complete their daily practice, tracks their frequency, and allows them to connect with friends for a social experience. The structured format makes it easy for kids to find exactly what they are looking for and stick with it, whether that’s basic breathing or a solutions-focused practice for anxiety or self-esteem. One area we’re watching: until 2019, Headspace founder and former monk Andy Puddicombe was the voice of the app – the only voice. Users called for more diversity, and Headspace responded by adding more women and teachers of color, some of whom teach specifically to the BIPOC experience.
Cost: We appreciate that Headspace, in partnership with youth-focused nonprofits Bring Change to Mind and Peer Health Exchange, is now free for all teens in the US between ages 13-18. Teens must register with one of the nonprofit partners to gain free access to the app; check out headspace.com/teens for details.
BEST FOR: EMPOWERING KIDS TO MANAGE THEIR EMOTIONS
Stop Breathe Think is a user-friendly app offering a substantial guided meditation library, a basic meditation timer, and a breathing timer that can be customized with different rhythms. When kids open the app, they’re prompted to check in with themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally, and this is where Stop Breathe Think really shines. The simple graphics and language help kids clarify their feelings, even those that are complex and hard to describe (fiery, mixed-up, restless, isolated, and self-critical, for example). Kids can choose as many emotions as they like to customize their experience. They then receive a targeted list of suggested meditations with different lengths, themes, and guides. We think this is just the right balance of guidance and freedom of choice for younger teens. The shortest mediations (1-3 minutes) are a great way to introduce kids to mindfulness practice and help them build lasting habits. A number of sessions are voiced by teachers of color, and some are available in Spanish. We love that Stop Breathe Think gives kids a broader vocabulary to describe and understand their emotions so they can learn to manage them in an empowered way.
Cost: Basic features are free, but a full-access subscription is $9.99/month or $58.99/year.
BEST FOR: WALKING THE TALK ON DIVERSITY AND INCLUSIVITY, BODY POSITIVITY, AND SELF-CARE
Representation always matters, and during the teen years – when our kids are crafting their identities – it is crucial. As teachers and parents, we know teens are tired of not seeing and hearing themselves reflected in the content created for them, and that lack of representation erodes their self-esteem. Meditation apps have rightfully been criticized for not being diverse or inclusive enough, and Shine aims to change that from the ground up. Founders Naomi Hirabayashi and Marah Lidey shared the frustration at the lack of diversity in the world of wellness. The Shine team is 80% BIPOC, and 90% of the 1000+ meditations are voiced by women of color. The app centers the experiences of BIPOC and LBGTQIA users, including topics like generational trauma that don’t show up on more conventional meditation apps. Shine also goes further than any other app we know in offering accessible, grounded practices for body positivity, self-love, and self-care. While not specifically created for teenagers, we think Shine will resonate with mature teens who’ll benefit from diverse and inclusive representation, as well as a feel-good boost of daily support from passionate people.
Cost: A premium subscription is $64.99/year.
BEST FOR: ENCOURAGING KIDS TO START A DAILY GRATITUDE PRACTICE
Three Good Things is a no-frills gratitude journal that introduces kids to the daily practice of recording three things they feel grateful for. The app is named for the work of Martin Seligman, father of Positive Psychology, who found that when participants wrote down three good things at the end of each day, they reported feeling happier and less depressed for at least 6 months after the one-week practice. Gratitude has since been associated in numerous studies with increased resilience and overall well-being. We love that this app was created by a teenager – 17-year-old Asher Dale – and that it makes daily gratitude practice so simple. Each entry is limited to 100 characters or less. Teens can set custom notifications, level up each time they make an entry, share their entries on social media, and gain points with use. We’ve found that our digital-native kids like having a daily reminder and are more consistent with the app than with a paper journal – and to be honest, we are, too! It’s a great app for families, sparking connective conversations that can easily turn gratitude into an everyday ritual. A few other apps with similar titles are out there, so look for the “A Happiness Journal” part, plus the simple blue-and-white smiley face icon.
Cost: it’s free!