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Lions Roar : July 2011
Sea Change I RECENTLY WENT TO HAWAII for the first time, and a friend suggested we go snorkeling to experience the beautiful tropical fish firsthand. I try to be open-minded about checking out new things and I enjoy seeing with fresh eyes, so even though I had learned to swim only a few years ago, I said yes straight away. But it wasn’t long before fear and worry set in. I began to think about how I wasn’t a very good swim- mer, how I often get motion sickness, and that I would probably get seasick. I was sure the fish would bite me. This flood of thoughts about my past and my future filled my mind and offset any anticipated enjoyment. In the same way, I’ve noticed that many of the teens I work with worry excessively about things that are out of their control. They believe it will change the outcome of what they’re worrying about—which we know from hard experience isn’t the case. One of the simplest techniques I use with teenagers is to help them notice when they’re engaging in these past/future thoughts and help them see that worries can’t change outcomes, no matter how much we would like them to. This small step can often shift their thinking and lead to increased present-moment awareness. I began to use mindfulness with teenagers in my psychotherapy practice when I saw that techniques that had traditionally been used with adults in the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program could work well with teens. Not only were teens “getting it,” they were soaking it up like sponges. I found they were often more open to the practices than adults, if they were explained in teen language. Unlike many of the other interventions I was using from other traditional psychotherapies, I saw that mind- fulness techniques and interventions dramatically and quickly improved teens’ quality ILLUSTRATIONS BY ERIC HANSON Teenagers “get” mindfulness; they soak it up like sponges and it transforms their lives. GINA BIEGEL on the best ways for parents, teachers, and mentors to introduce teens to the practice.