Did you know that learning to be more at home in the present can give teens a brighter future? Being more present gives them tools to manage stress, reduce anxiety, increase their focus and build emotional resilience. And since adolescence is a critical time for brain development, teens who practice presence are learning healthy habits they can take with them into adulthood.
Why Being More Present is Key
Presence is another word for mindfulness: “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” Being more present is a practice made up of small daily habits, like focusing on your breath, taking pauses throughout the day, and reflecting on your thoughts and feelings. Each of these habits helps train the brain to stay focused on what’s happening now, instead of getting lost in past or future worries. Among adults, mindfulness is proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress-related medical conditions like high blood pressure.
Teens need the stress-busting, health-boosting benefits of presence, too. Adolescent stress levels now rival those of adults, and nearly one in three teens will experience an anxiety disorder. Teens also report more difficulty with focus and emotional regulation than other age groups. While the reasons for these struggles are complex and individual, researchers agree they’re due to a unique combination of external stresses – like academic and social pressures – and internal changes that take place as teens’ brains mature. One major factor is that the prefrontal cortex– the part of the brain that’s responsible for reasoning, attention and impulse control– isn’t fully developed until about age 25. \”It\’s not the fault of teenagers that they can\’t concentrate and are easily distracted. It\’s to do with the structure of their brains,” says Dr. Iroise Dumontheil of University College London\’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.
All teens benefit from tools to build daily habits that help them stay calm, focused and grounded. Here are three simple ways you and your teen can practice being more present each day:
1. Focus on your breath.
Mindful breathing is proven to reduce anxiety, improve focus and regulate intense emotions. When your teen is worried, distracted or struggling with difficult emotions, teach them to take a few slow, deep breaths and pay attention to the physical sensations of breathing. This activates the calming effects of the parasympathetic nervous system and connects the mind and body in the present moment.
2. Reframe negative thoughts and self-talk.
Emotions are closely linked to thoughts and self-talk. A thought like “I’m so stupid; I didn’t understand anything in that class,” leads to feelings of shame, anxiety and fear. Reframing teaches teens to notice their negative thoughts and self-talk and switch to a more positive, self-compassionate and empowering perspective: “I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s struggling. I know I can get this. I’ll ask my teacher for help tomorrow.”
3. Use Spark!
Spark is one of our favorite features of the Lucero wellness app. It makes it easy and fun for teens to check in with themselves and learn simple strategies for being more present. They just tap the emotion they’re feeling, spin the wheel and get personalized ideas for self-awareness and self-care. Best of all, teens can use Spark alone or with their Crew (any friends and family who radically support each other) to make practicing presence a part of their daily routine.