A study by Kabat-Zinn and colleagues found people who had completed an eight-week MBSR programme scored highly on a number of resilient traits identified by Kobasa, 1979 and Antonovsky 1993. They were also more likely to see challenges as opportunities rather than threats (Weissbecker, Salmon, Studts, Floyd, Dedert & Sephton, 2002; Dobkin, 2008).
Young people face numerous challenges, including many new beginnings and endings and shifts in relationships with peers and others. The way they perceive these challenges is an important factor in how mentally tough they are.
Key elements here are non-judgment and compassion, which we encourage in mindfulness. Encouraging young people to turn towards whatever is there, including difficult emotions such as sadness or anger can feel counter-intuitive. However, it´s not about being self-indulgent, but about “sitting with” feelings without adding another layer of judgment, or harsh self-criticism. By turning towards difficult emotions, these very often dissipate.
For young people, each day can bring a new emotional rollercoaster and although young people often move rapidly from one emotion to another, this does not detract from the intensity. For many, realising that they are not their thoughts and that thoughts and feelings are transient rather than the truth, is a huge eye-opener.
Meanwhile, the meta-cognitive aspect of mindfulness has been wellresearched—practicing mindfulness helps us see the bigger picture and pay attention to more data, not only within ourselves, but in others and the world around us. Garland, Gaylord and Park (2009) propose, for example, that it´s this aspect that allows us to shift from “avoidance” to “approach” mode. With young people, I often talk of mindfulness helping us to develop “goat vision”—goats´ rectangular pupils allow them periphery vision.
Mindfulness helps develop confidence in both of the sub scales identified by Clough—abilities and interpersonal confidence. By becoming
more compassionate to ourselves (and others), we feel more able to try new things. It also enhances focus and delivers a range of cognitive improvements, which can enhance confidence in abilities. Furthermore it enhances emotional intelligence, which boosts interpersonal confidence.
Practising mindfulness helps us make meaningful relationships, accept experiences as they truly are, manage difficult feelings, and to be calm, resilient, compassionate, and empathic (Baer, 2003; Salmon, Sephton, Weissbecke, Hoover, Ulmer & Studts, 2004).
A US study of an MBSR-derived mindfulness programme, “Learning to BREATHE”, for seventeen to nineteen-year-old students in an American independent girls' school showed decreases in negative affect, and increases in calm, relaxation, self-acceptance, emotional regulation, awareness, and clarity (Broderick & Metz, 2009).
Being able to stick to a commitment—to others and to oneself—is another core component in mental toughness, and certainly it's one many young people struggle with. Mindfulness can help those practicing mindfulness get in touch with what really matters to them and to feel more connected to others, and as we have seen, it helps them to see the bigger picture, which may strengthen their commitment.
Introduction to mindfulness for young people: the .b programme
Duration: eight weeks, with daily home practice encouraged in-between sessions.
Content: weekly two-three hour group sessions, with opportunity for discussion, and a focus on the following elements:
• Directing one's attention
• Turning towards calm
• Dealing with worry
• Being “here now”
Mindful movement, such as “mindful walking”
• “Stepping back” (understanding thoughts are not facts, for example)
• Befriending the difficult (including understanding stress and how we personally deal with stress).
Practices include an introductory practice such as the raisin meditation where participants are encouraged to approach a raisin (or chocolate!) as if for the first time, really taking the time to explore what it looks like, smells like, and feels like before slowly and mindfully eating it. Another is beditation (a variation on the body scan practice) in which the idea is to mindfully scan the body from head to toe, exploring sensations with curiosity and without judgment.
Other activities include ones such as FOFBOC (feet on floor, bottom on chair), which encourage young people to bring their attention away from their brain to their body, allowing them to “come to their senses” both physically and metaphorically.
The .b programme has been developed by the mindfulness in schools project
What young people say
Marcus (aged thirteen) “(the) lessons are fun and relaxed as well as providing great techniques to take into everyday life. Mindfulness has helped me reduce headaches, concentrate before exams and perform in football. “
Molly (aged thirteen) “Beditation (a mindfulness practice taught on the
.b programme) really helps me sleep and makes me calm in everyday life.”
James (aged fourteen) “It helps relieve any anxiety for exams, auditions etc.”
Zoe (aged fourteen) “Mindfulness helps to control emotions when they get out of hand and to live in the moment.”
Our son, Dylan (then aged eleven), who is taught mindfulness at his new school, says: “Mindfulness helps me to relax when I'm stressed. It also can calm me down when I'm angry.”
Source: Participants on the .b-derived programmes including Mindfulness4teens, run by Raymond Freeman (a trained .b teacher) and Liz Hall (mindful coach and author of Mindful Coaching).
To conclude, mindfulness has much to offer in the development of mental toughness in young people, as well as supporting them in many other ways, such as to be ethical, compassionate, creative, and joyful members of society.
There appear to be no disadvantages to sharing mindfulness techniques with young people and many benefits. Within the mental health and educational arenas, in particular, mindfulness has much to contribute.