Teaching mindfulness to teens and young adults can be difficult, but quite beneficial. There is a growing body of research to support the many benefits of mindfulness practice. In order to help make it more accessible, we can teach mindfulness in a way that is more interesting and interactive than the traditional sitting meditations. Here are a few activities to teach mindfulness to teens that we’ve found helpful.
1. Mindful Walking
Mindful walking is a great way to teach mindfulness to young people. Whether you’re working with teens, young adults, or children, this is an activity that many can do. Unlike sitting meditation, mindful walking allows the teens to get up and move, releasing some of their energy. You also don’t need to buy anything special to do this exercise, which makes it quite accessible. It’s a great way to bring the mind to the present-time experience and learn to live one day at a time.
You can take your group outside if you are able, and simply offer some basic instructions. People should walk slowly and in silence. Tell them to pay attention to what they see, hear, feel, and smell. You may offer some examples. As you lead the walk, you may pause to encourage them to notice a specific bird chirping, the feeling of the wind blowing, or any other experience.
2. Mindful Eating
Mindful eating is a great practice for people of any age. It can help us to eat healthier foods in healthier quantities at healthier times. We can practice this any time, and mindful eating gives us several opportunities a day to be reminded of our practice. And, it’s a relatively easy mindfulness exercise for teens and young adults to grab onto.
I recommend bringing something simple to your group. You may want to check ahead of time for allergies! You may use some berries, some nuts, seeds, or vegetables. Make sure each member of the group has one in their hand, and begin by instructing them to observe it with awareness. What does it look like? Does the item have a smell? What does it feel like in their hand? As they begin to eat it, what do they notice? Taste, texture, temperature, etc.
3. Mindful Coloring
Mindful coloring is something that has gained in popularity in the West in recent years, but has its roots in Tibetan mandalas. In mindful coloring exercises, we are just bringing our attention to the present moment through the act of creating something. Our awareness is wrapped up in the coloring, and we may find ourselves naturally mindful in these moments.
You don’t have to get a special mindful coloring book to practice this. Just find some coloring sheets, and ask your group to be silent and present while coloring. You don’t need deep instruction; just ask them to pay attention to what they’re doing. You can of course find a coloring book specifically made for mindfulness exercises, like the ones below.
4. Out Loud Noting
Out loud noting is one of my favorite mindfulness activities for teens and young adults. It is a little bit of a challenge, may put some uot of their comfort zone, but is quite beneficial. Like other activities, it doesn’t take any special equipment or preparation. All you need to do is arrange the group into a circle.
You can start the activity by noting anything you’re experiencing and picking a direction to go around the circle. You, and other members of your group, can name any single thing they are noticing. It may be a sound, a sight, a feeling, a thought, a smell, etc. Just continue to go around, noting one thing that is in each person’s awareness.
5. Mindful Jenga
Mindful Jenga is an activity that came to us via a friend who works with children in Northern California. Although this is an activity that is great for younger children, it also works for teens. In this exercise, you use the game of Jenga to create the foundation of a mindfulness game. Unlike many other activities on this list, this can work well in smaller groups or even one-on-one.
You can start by buying a Jenga set online. On each block, write one prompt. You may write something like, “What are you feeling in this moment?” You may also write something like, “Pause and take 3 deep breaths.” You can write whatever you see fit. When somebody pulls a Jenga block, they have to answer the prompt or take the action as directed!
6. Listening Exercises
Listening exercises offer a more organized and structured way to practice mindfulness. In this exercise, people will pair up with one partner and practice listening completely to what somebody else is saying. This helps build the ability to listen with mindfulness, an important skill that can benefit us in many ways.
To start, have your teens pair up in twos. Have them choose one person to talk, and one to listen. They will switch eventually, getting the opportunity to both listen and to speak. Offer a prompt, and allow the speaking partner to speak for two minutes straight while the other one listens without responding. You can offer any prompt you’d like, such as “Tell me about somebody you admire,” “What are your favorite things to do for fun?” or “What is something you’re curious about?”
7. Sense-Door Tag
Sense-door tag is similar to out loud noting, but adds a bit more of a playful quality to it. This is a mindfulness exercise that works well with teens and preteens. You will sit in a circle all facing in. You can start if you’d like, or pick somebody to start. Use the sense-doors of sight, thought, hearing, feeling (in the body), and smell.
Begin by naming one thing you can hear. Then, “tag” someone else in the circle and choose a sense door. So you may tag somebody else, and say “sight.” This person then has to say something they see. Then, they tag somebody else and choose a sense door. This helps individuals bring mindfulness to a random sense-door, and keeps the kids engaged.
8. Body Scanning
Body scans are perhaps one of the best mindfulness meditations for beginners. The structure of the meditation makes it accessible and relatively easy to follow. And, this practice is quite helpful. You can find body scans for beginners on YouTube to get an idea of how body scans go, then bring it to your teens in an approachable way.
Ask your group to sit in silence and allow the eyes to close. Starting up at the crown of the head, instruct the teens to move their attention slowly through the body until you reach the toes. As you come to each point in the body, encourage them to bring mindfulness to whatever they can feel in each part.
There are many unhealthy ways we deal with stress and anxiety, and it is never too soon to begin teaching our young people how to respond in a healthier way. Self-compassion is not mindfulness exactly, but it is part of the path. Responding with compassion is a mindful response that helps us be more present and kind toward ourselves.
Have the teens bring to mind something that has been painful or uncomfortable for them recently. If they would like, they can put their hands over their heart (this stimulates the vagus nerve and releases oxytocin). They can silently offer themselves a few phrases of compassion:
- This is painful
- Suffering is a part of life
- May I have compassion for this pain
Tips for Teaching Mindfulness to Teens
Teaching mindfulness to kids, young adults, and teens requires some extra care and attention. If we try to introduce mindfulness without bringing awareness to how we are doing so, we may be unsuccessful. Here are a few tips you can use to help.
- Explain what mindfulness is always. Don’t assume they will know, or that they will understand through the exercise. Give a brief introduction.
- Practice with them. As the adult/leader, your practice will encourage them to take this seriously and engage.
- Choose your timing well. If the teens have a lot of energy or are really sleepy, it may not be the best time for mindfulness to take hold.
- Try to have fun, and not take it too seriously. Give them a positive association with the experience, rather than a confined or strict one.
- Explain that wandering mind or difficulty being present is not something to be ashamed of. It’s totally normal, and why we practice!
- Ask the group to share their experiences. Some will have good experiences to share, while others will have difficulties. This can make other, quieter students feel more welcome.
- Remember that the kids do not need to love mindfulness in order for the teaching to be useful. Sometimes, you are just planting a seed!
There are a lot of other resources out there to help teach mindfulness to adolescents. Here are a few resources we love that may help you.
- Interactive Mindfulness Exercises from One Mind Dharma
- Mindful Schools teacher training programs
- Mindfulness for Teens book
- Practicing Mindfulness book
- Inward Bound Mindfulness Education programs
- Insight Timer meditation app
- Stop, Breathe, and Think app
- MetaFi app