I stood at the back of the classroom and watched the students stroll in and slump into their seats. Tucked under their black hoodies and scrolling through their cell phones, I knew this was going to be a challenging audience. You see I’ve taught meditation and mindfulness to kids in the past, but they were always self selected... they came to me because they were willing and ready to learn. Or at least they had their parents backing! This was the first time I entered a classroom of teenagers who most likely wanted nothing to do with meditation, mindfulness or anything I had to say. So I did what I knew best…I took a long, slow, deep breathe.
As I taught, I begged for eye contact. And when I guided the meditation, I had to remain focused while hand signaling one boy to put his cell phone away and another group of girls to control their giggling (which I’m sure would have been me in high school).
When the class was done and the bell rang, I really wasn’t sure what to make of it all. I received absolutely no feedback from the kids but the homeroom teacher was thrilled. He claimed it went spectacular… “the kids loved it... they all participated!” The teacher asked each student to complete an evaluation and a few weeks later he shared that 85% of the kids found the class “enlightening” (interesting choice of words) and 50% said they would try meditation in the future. We scheduled another date wherein I would come in and teach multiple periods. I was thrilled.
Through my humble experience of teaching teens in a studio environment (wherein they are self selected), in a classroom setting (wherein they are showing up for school and may not be interested) and at home (my teenage boy half reluctantly and half enthusiastically agreeing to learn the practice), I have listed the top 10 tips for teaching teens to meditate.
#1. You are a role model
As a parent, it can be endearing or shocking when you hear your own words uttered from your child. Whether teaching your own teenager or others, teenagers will look to you as their role model… whether they know it or not. They will respect or disrespect you. Students are reflections of their teachers. The quote by Lewis Cass sums it up beautifully: “People may doubt what you say, but they will believe what you do.” Meditate before entering the classroom, cultivate an inner sense of love (and patience) and be mindful when you teach.
#2. Don’t try too hard
This advice was shared by my son the day before teaching my first high school class. “Don’t try to be that cool teacher that thinks they relate to the kids,” he said. “And what the heck does that mean?” I replied bright eyed and bewildered. He gave me specifics: don’t use trendy slang or references; don’t pretend or assume you know what kids are feeling and don’t push too hard. He told me… just be yourself! I like it!
#3. And at the same time, relate and be relevant
Do this authentically and be subtle (see #2 – Don’t try too hard). I focus on the many sports teams, professional athletes, popular actresses and singers who all practice meditating. (And even slip in a few lyrics from popular rappers…again subtle.) I am also sure to share the benefits of meditation and how it could improve their relationships with parents and friends, boost academic performance and help them in their sports – as an individual player and relating to others on their team. Relate lessons to the real world and apply content to everyday situations. Allow plenty of time for students to share their own experiences.
#4. Keep the class small
The smaller the class, the more intimate and the more students will share. Students feel safe. I have found this true for both my adult and kid classes. You can give more individualized instruction, participants behave better and they can’t hide in the back. If you have a larger class, divide the students into smaller groups.
#5. If you can, hold a series of classes
Teaching a series of classes you can see the progress. Students become invested emotionally and they support each other through the process. Trust is developed. A series gives students time to practice lessons during the week… in “real life.” It also gives the teacher opportunity to help with any challenges that may come up.
#6. KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid)
Okay, I didn’t learn this phrase in my meditation teachings but it sure applies. Keep the meditations short and simple. A body scan, breath awareness or even some visualization meditations are good places to start. Leave the chakra meditations for another time.
#7. Don’t force it
Students need to be willing to practice meditation and mindfulness. As a teacher, you can’t “make” anyone meditate. I even tell my students this. “I can’t make you meditate. You need to want to practice! If you don’t want to participate, that is completely okay. All I ask is you close your eyes and not talk. All I ask is that you are respectful of those in this room that want to mediate and give it a try. And if you change your mind mid way through the meditation, please join in!” With their eyes and mouths closed, they are more than half way there!
#8. Make technology work for you
Yes, too much technology is not helping kids be mindful. Kids are addicted to the computer and their phone… and so are adults. We need to unplug. But wait… before we do, let’s just use it to our advantage… just this once (or twice). Engage kids by showing videos when possible. Interviews, TED talks…reinforce your teaching with another voice. And be sure to share the many meditation and mindfulness apps to support a practice. I recommend Insight Timer, but I know there are other favorites as well. See link for a few: http://www.mindful.org/free-mindfulness-apps-worthy-of-your-attention/
#9. Don’t take it personally
Are you familiar with the Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz? One to remember when teaching teens to meditate is not to take things personally. When a student doesn’t want to participate or even shoots you a funny look, don’t take it personally. Remember you can’t “make” your students meditate. And remember…
#10. You are planting seeds
I would love to think that I am changing lives by sharing meditation but sometimes I have to remember that my job is simply to plant seeds. The boy hidden behind his hoodie or the girls giggling in the back of the classroom may not appear to be interested. In fact, not one of the kids in that class, that day, remotely appeared interested. Yet 50% of the class said they would meditate again. If I can touch just one student to wake up to a more mindful life, if I can touch just one student with the tools to bring a bit of peace into a stressful life; if I can touch just one student to be less angry, less aggressive… well then, that seed has bloomed. And a blooming flower is beautiful.