Parenting in the Digital Age: Practicing Mindfulness

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I recently attended a leadership seminar through my local school district where we had the opportunity to learn about a new initiative in our schools of incorporating “mindfulness” into our educational system.  Realizing I already practice “mindfulness” techniques in my own life, I was very excited to learn how practicing this theory can be life-changing for our children, teachers, administration and our community.

One of the leading reasons for bringing this practice into our school community is to help manage stress. It really got me thinking.

How did we as a society get so stressed out?!  

Why is suicide the leading cause of death amongst teens?

Why are so many teens and adults on anti-anxiety medication?

What is so different about growing up today compared to my youth?

The first “difference” that came to mind was social media and digital technology.

How can we apply the practice of mindfulness to ease the additional anxiety and stress that is caused by social media and everyday living in the Digital Age?

What is Mindfulness?

“Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.

Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.”

Excerpt from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition

What are some examples of Mindfulness practice?

Yoga, meditation, writing, listening to music, going outside, gardening walking… any activity that helps you achieve body-mind balance and bring calm and peace for even a short period of time during the day.

Why do we need this?

Teens/tweens are naturally wired for self-consciousness. What is so different from when I grew up, is that the comparison, competition, self-doubt, etc., stopped when we walked in the front door after a day at school. We were able to “turn-off” and “tune-out” social pressures because we didn’t have the technology to keep these channels “turned-on” 24/7.  Today, socializing, especially through social media, IS 24/7.

Socializing and social comparison begins first thing in the morning and ends last thing at night. Predictably, psychology research consistently shows that social media is making kids unhappier and more narcissistic.” --(“Before you scroll, try this..”by Christopher Willard)

Benefits of Mindfulness

An article on the website “Greater Good, The Science of a Meaningful Life” identifies why practicing mindfulness has such great benefits.

  • Mindfulness is good for our bodies: A seminal study found that, after just eight weeks of training, practicing mindfulness meditation boosts our immune system’s ability to fight off illness.

  • Mindfulness is good for our minds: Several studies have found that mindfulness increases positive emotions while reducing negative emotions and stress. Indeed, at least one study suggests it may be as good as antidepressants in fighting depression and preventing relapse.

  • Mindfulness changes our brains: Research has found that it increases density of gray matter in brain regions linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and empathy.

  • Mindfulness helps us focus: Studies suggest that mindfulness helps us tune out distractions and improves our memory and attention skills.

  • Mindfulness fosters compassion and altruism: Research suggests mindfulness training makes us more likely to help someone in need and increases activity in neural networks involved in understanding the suffering of others and regulating emotions. Evidence suggests it might boost self-compassion as well.

  • Mindfulness enhances relationships: Research suggests mindfulness training makes couples more satisfied with their relationship, makes each partner feel more optimistic and relaxed, and makes them feel more accepting of and closer to one another.

  • Mindfulness helps schools: There’s scientific evidence that teaching mindfulness in the classroom reduces behavior problems and aggression among students, and improves their happiness levels and ability to pay attention. Teachers trained in mindfulness also show lower blood pressure, less negative emotion and symptoms of depression, and greater compassion and empathy.

Practicing Mindfulness- tools for teens and families

If we as a society want to help manage stress and anxiety, reduce teen suicide, help kids cope, and just overall be more healthy and productive citizens… we need to guide them (and ourselves) to useful tools and techniques.

Activities for families:

  • Breathing Exercises — Can be beneficial any time of day. Try it before the kids go to school or on the way to work. It’s a much better way to start the day than in a stressful state. Take 3–5 minutes to just breathe in through the nose and then let out a big exhale. Repeat.

  • Mindful Appreciation — Make it a goal each day to write down 5 things we are thankful for. Have a blank dry erase board or chalkboard available and start each day by writing down one thing. Have your family add more throughout the day.  

  • Yoga — Enroll in a yoga class with your kids, or practice on your own in the park or in a quiet corner of the house.

  • Walking — A quiet walk in nature is good for the mind and the body. No need to talk, just enjoy the peaceful time in the great outdoors.

  • Meditation — Take some quiet time to relax and think of something that makes you happy or calms you.

  • Body Scan— Technique to help the body relax. Start at the outer parts of the body and work inward. Think of your fingers relaxing, hands, wrists, toes, feet, ankles, calves, knees — upward. This is a great tool for all ages and even helps weary and stressed out parents get needed rest.

 Thanksgiving themed Mindfulness exercise - Use a real or artificial pumpkin and have each family member (or friends and visitors) write down what they are thankful for. 

Thanksgiving themed Mindfulness exercise - Use a real or artificial pumpkin and have each family member (or friends and visitors) write down what they are thankful for. 

No surprise, when looking for mindful tools, look no further than the app stores. Both of these are available on the App Store and Google Play.

  • Calm (www.calm.com)  — Relax with Calm, a simple mindfulness meditation app that brings clarity and peace of mind into your life.

  • Stop Breathe Think (www.stopbreathethink.org) — Geared towards teens/tweens to learn meditation yet perfect for all ages.

Practice Mindfulness while using social media

  • Before you start clicking and scrolling, just breathe. Take a few seconds to take a few deep inhales and a few deep exhales. This helps you calm and center yourself.

  • Ask yourself these questions: Why am I going to this site? What do I expect to see/learn? How am I going to react what I see/learn? Am I going to let it get to me? Am I here to stay connected or am I just bored or need a distraction?

  • Take a few more deep breaths in and out before engaging

  • Ask yourself: how did what you saw make you feel? Happy? Sad? Angry? Jealous? Concerned? Confused?

  • Think about how you want to engage with what you saw: Like it, share it, comment on it, do nothing?

  • Take a few more deep breaths in and out and then react.

This type of exercise can help one understand how to use social media mindfully. Being aware of emotions can help your kids (and yourself) make better decisions on how to react and how often to use certain social platforms.

For more on practicing mindfulness when scrolling social: 

http://www.mindful.org/before-you-scroll-try-this-social-media-practice/

Parting thoughts

Parenting in the Digital Age is no easy task. If we can use simple techniques for ourselves and for our families to help manage stress and anxiety in everyday living, we will help foster a community of wellness that will perpetuate beyond this generation.