We’ve all had quite the year with teenagers, in particular, facing some unique challenges over the past 18 months. However, results of a recent study focusing on the impact of online mindfulness have some promising news worth investigating. Should mindfulness be part of a broader strategy addressing student wellbeing? This week on School Stream, we look at teenagers, mental wellbeing and online mindfulness. 

Take your school-family communication digital with School Stream. It’s easy, fast and reliable. Watch a short video to see School Stream in action or keep reading for our deep dive on mindfulness training online. 

But first, Happy World Teachers’ Day!  

World Teachers’ Day is 5 October, and it would be remiss of us to go on without acknowledging everything teachers do to nurture, motivate, inspire and lead the next generation. We salute you!

What is mindfulness?

There has been plenty of buzz around “mindfulness” for decades, but it’s worth revisiting exactly what it means. There are loads of different definitions online and this explanation from Headspace sums up the key concepts pretty succinctly:

“Mindfulness is the idea of learning how to be fully present and engaged in the moment, aware of your thoughts and feelings without distraction or judgment.”

Mindfulness is considered a mainstream technique and is now being taught to executives, athletes and increasingly, children, teens and young adults. 

What does mindfulness help teenagers with?

Life can be tricky, and we all grapple with a degree of adversity from birth onwards: Babies get tired and hungry, toddlers struggle with new feelings, language and self-control, and by the time children reach adolescence, life has become complicated. The stuff typical to growing up pre-pandemic, such as navigating school, relationships, independence and a sense of self can be challenging enough on its own – once you add in a pandemic, social isolation and all the worries accompanying that, being a teenager right now is tough. Mindfulness is thought to be a useful and accessible tool for decreasing anxiety and promoting happiness. And the good news? Teens and young adults are well-placed to both benefit from and take advantage of this melding of the online world and mindfulness. 

Teenagers and Screens: It’s not all bad news

Worry about teenagers and the amount of time they spend on screens is a debate that has been raging as long as there have been screens. But it’s fair to say the past 18 months have seen screen time go through the roof across all demographics as learning, socialising, fitness and even health appointments have moved online. But according to Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, Professor of Psychology at the University of Cambridge in the UK, for teens there may be a silver lining to all this screen time:

“[Teens] are very used to connecting with each other online. And in some ways, that’s a great reassurance because … their face-to-face social contact is really restricted [at the moment]… At least they can maintain communication with friends through social media and that might help to mitigate the potentially harmful effects of depriving them of face-to-face social interaction during this period of life. From many years of research … we know that young people require social interaction and social learning in order for development to take place, and it also helps their mental health.”

ABC Online

Mobile technology is a great entry point to mindfulness

So while the pandemic has, through necessity, accelerated the pace at which teens and young people access services, making health and wellbeing resources available online and via smartphones makes sense. We all understand the importance of ‘meeting people where they are’ when it comes to delivering health promotion activities, and in the case of teens and young people, where they are is online – whether we like it or not! A 2020 Finnish study into the effectiveness of digital and online mindfulness in upper-secondary students found evidence that digital and smartphone mindfulness programs were a great entry point to mindfulness training due to their near-universal reach. They also found programs delivering digital, evidence-based mindfulness programs to be a cost-effective, low-risk and convenient way to access mindfulness training that will reach many people from all socio-economic backgrounds, including those in regional and rural locations.

Teenagers and mindfulness

There is plenty of evidence to support the benefits of mindfulness training for teens. Schools which have implemented mindfulness programs report better cognitive performance, lower stress, improved classroom behaviour, better social skills and even better results in maths. There is a growing field of research that is assessing whether online mindfulness programs can deliver similar benefits for students, and the results are promising. The 2020 Finnish study we referred to earlier found digital mindfulness training was particularly useful in reducing anxiety and depression in participating teenagers. There were also small increases in quality of life, compassion, sleep problems and happiness. 

Post-secondary students and online mindfulness

While certainly not a panacea, another more recent 2021 study examining the effects of online mindfulness training by researchers at the University of Queensland found digitally-delivered mindfulness training has the potential to help post-secondary students thrive. The study reported gains in areas such as self-acceptance, personal growth, meaning and the purpose of life and positive relationships with others. However, the group who participated in mindfulness training reported a distinct benefit in that it improved psychological wellbeing by helping students cultivate authenticity – a powerful indicator or mental wellbeing.

 

We hope you enjoyed our overview of mindfulness in teens and young people. We’ll be back next week looking at student and teacher attitudes to STEM.

 

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