The Conscious Classroom

Teen Mental Wellness: Promoting positive mental health

March 03, 2020 Amy Edelstein Season 1 Episode 1
The Conscious Classroom
Teen Mental Wellness: Promoting positive mental health
The Conscious Classroom
Teen Mental Wellness: Promoting positive mental health
Mar 03, 2020 Season 1 Episode 1
Amy Edelstein

Holiday season is a time for family, warmth, and peace. For all too many of our students, holiday time is a time of stress, sadness, and distance between media images of gifts and neighborhoods of lack. Many teens, even those who come from stable homes experience depression and loneliness at this time. In this episode of The Conscious Classroom, Amy Edelstein shares mindfulness tools that support teens over the holiday break to stay happy and connected with themselves.

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Show Notes Transcript

Holiday season is a time for family, warmth, and peace. For all too many of our students, holiday time is a time of stress, sadness, and distance between media images of gifts and neighborhoods of lack. Many teens, even those who come from stable homes experience depression and loneliness at this time. In this episode of The Conscious Classroom, Amy Edelstein shares mindfulness tools that support teens over the holiday break to stay happy and connected with themselves.

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Teen Mental Wellness: Promoting positive mental health
with Amy Edelstein



Hello and welcome to the Conscious Classroom monthly webinar. Happy holidays and welcome to this December broadcast. In the webinar today, we’re going to be talking about teen mental wellness and how to promote positive mental health.


Holiday season is a time where we think of the ideal family of warmth and peace, of qualities of generosity, kindness, of gift giving and gift receiving, of eating our favorite foods and spending time together.


The beautiful sentiments that occur during the holiday season and people really do turn their minds and attentions towards connection and love and togetherness.


For all too many teens, holidays is a time of stress where teens feel like they or their families don’t match the perfect image of the commercials that they see on television or the photographs that they see on social media.


Oftentimes they feel a gap between who they feel they’re supposed to be, how they think they’re supposed to feel and what they think they’re supposed to do and the reality of their lives.


For many teens, regardless of socioeconomic bracket, the gift giving, gift receiving aspect of the holidays can be fraught with tension whether it’s a family of means where gifts replace emotion or a family of lack where essentials aren’t covered and parents or guardians feel the tension of poverty.


These concerns weigh on kids and even though teens rebel against authority, they appreciate the structures of school. They come to school. They have a routine. They know when they’re going to eat and what they’re going to eat and where they’re going to eat. They know where they’re supposed to be.


All of the free time and lack of boundaries that occur around the holidays can produce anxiety and teens who one, aren’t used to being on their own for long periods and two, aren’t disciplined enough to be able to create positive and wholesome activities.


Also as we’ve seen is parents for better and for worse may be overly protective of their teens, so it’s harder for teens to socialize when they’re not at school. It’s harder for them to see their friends. 


How do we work with them? How do we help them cultivate groundedness? How do we help them turn their attention towards the deeper values that this holiday season points to and turn them away from the sugar rushes of too many sweets and the adrenaline rushes of too many video games?


During this time, the presence of a stable and grounded adult or mentor who can help give teens positive activities is really important and it can make all the difference from teens slipping away to do something that they shouldn’t be doing whether it’s drugs or alcohol or sex or indulgence online.


You can be involved with the teens in your life whether you’re a teacher or a parent through some of the mindful awareness practices that we’ve been doing over these months and recommending over these months or that you can find on the Inner Strength website, under the “Teen” tab. There’s an audio library and a video library where there are positive and wholesome activities that teens can turn their minds to. They can keep them occupied and give them a little bit of structure.


One of the practices of course which we talked about last month is the love and kindness, sending good wishes to one’s self and to another. We’re going to do another love and kindness practice towards the end of this webinar. 


Following on that theme, you can create a challenge, a writing challenge for your teens. If you’re a teacher, give them the assignment for over the holidays to keep a gratitude journal and have them write down five things that they’re grateful for and appreciate about themselves and five things that they’re grateful for and appreciate about anything else going on in their lives.


You can give them things to think about, things that they’re grateful for about themselves, that they’re kind, that they’re generous, that they care about other people, that they help other people, that they take care of their younger siblings, that they call a friend when they think their friend needs some cheering up.


Whatever it is, you give them some ideas for things that you know about these kids that they actually do and things that they can appreciate about themselves and then have them write five things that they’re grateful for. It can be for being able to skip down the road, being able to sing a song, being able to dance with their friends, being able to make a card for someone they love and also things that they’re grateful for in their surroundings, that it’s a beautiful day, that the sun came out, that they heard a song they love.


Find things that you know are within their reach and then have them write down in their gratitude journal five things they appreciate about themselves, five things they appreciate about their experience of life and what surrounds them.


Focusing on those aspects of our experience and those qualities of self that make us happy, that make us recognize goodness in life, helps habituate teens to see the glass as half full rather than half empty.


You can be sure that almost all the teens that you come in contact with do experience challenge, whether it’s inner or external or both. We don’t need to mitigate their experience of goodness, thinking that they might get overconfident of overenthusiastic. It’s just part of a habit of the teenage brain to be concerned, to be challenged and we need to help our teens train themselves to focus on goodness, not in an unrealistic way but in a way that’s going to give them grounding.


As part of their gratitude journal, you can have – you can challenge them to practice an act of kindness towards themselves and towards other people one a day. 


You can make it a challenge that when they come back, that they – you have some way for them to record what they noticed, what they saw and some kind of prize for those who do it, whether it’s a homework grade or whether it’s the ability to lead something in class for everyone else or define a topic for an open essay that you’re giving them, something that will help them feel like their experience counts, their experience matters, their experience of goodness is important to the adults around them.


That the adults aren’t only looking for fault and ways to discipline but the adults are looking for their contribution, their positivity, their spark, their creativity, their laughter. 


Other awareness practices that you can do with your students before they go on break and that your students can do during break are the body scan and the mindful eating.


Mindful eating is a lot of fun because they’re going to be exploring a lot of sweets anyway and if you can get them to teach their families or their cousins or their friends or their siblings how to practice mindful eating with a piece of chocolate and you can stretch that chocolate out to 10 or 15 minutes, it will be a lot of fun for them that they can really talk through how to eat slowly, how to notice all the sensations, how to relate to desire and what happens in their body, wanting to eat and the salivation, wanting to eat and the stomach growling, wanting to eat and the hand wanting to push that chocolate right up to the mouth before you even know that you’re giving a command.


Get them excited about it. Get them enthusiastic about sharing their experience of mindful awareness with the other young adults or older adults that they’re with. They can do it with the older members of their family and have fun in a way that will make them giggle and make their grandparents giggle and give them something to focus on, that slows down the process of consuming one thing after another.


The body scan relaxing parts of the body one after another is also incredibly helpful during this time. A lot of teens gets so ramped up that they can’t fall asleep. So they end up playing video games until late or watching YouTube after YouTube or movie after movie in this swirl and haze of consumption and digitization.


Letting them go through the body scan and there’s a nice long one on – in the Inner Strength teen library will help them – help their brains calm down and help them get ready for sleep.


Before the holidays, have the teens make themselves their own little checklist. Which are the exercises that they can do and when could they do them? And whether they keep it on their phone or they write it down and they take a picture of it and make it their background on their phone or somewhere where they see regularly or they decorate an index card and put it on their mirror or by their bed, have them in their own handwriting make their own list. What are their go-tos? What are the exercises they can do? When can they do them?


Encourage them that over this time, while they’re home and on vacation and out of structure and feeling a little grumpy and out of sorts, to take out that list or turn to that list or pay attention to that list or read it again and do one of the exercises that they know gives them some inner strength and outer stability.


If you see a teen that you’re working with or that you can – in your family, part of your relatives’ circle who is talking in a way that seems excessively sad, excessively morose, ask them how they’re doing. If you feel that there is some leaning towards drugs or alcohol or self-harm or suicidal ideation, ask. 


The research shows that when teens are asked directly, “Are you hurting yourself? Are you depressed? Are you thinking about suicide?” they will – gives them the opportunity to respond. It gives them an opportunity to articulate and to consider and in spite of our instinct not to bring up those things, bringing up those things with a teen who is experiencing emotional challenges can give them just that much objectivity on what they’re thinking about to cause them to make a different choice.


If they do answer in a way that’s alarming, don’t wait. Seek help immediately. If they say that they’re fed up and they just want to – that they’re finished at all, ask them what they need. What do you mean by that? Are you thinking of hurting yourself? Are you thinking about suicide? Do you have a plan? If they say yes, do you have the means? Find out.


Find out if they’ve already taken action and call 911 or call your local suicide hotline. Teens are impulsive. They’re risk-takers. They don’t think through the consequence. The teen brain is not designed to understand long term consequence. 


Your own proactiveness, your own calmness, your own lack of fear, even if you’re very concerned, your love and ability to connect with them, can make the difference between a teen who’s considering drugs, considering alcohol, considering self-harm and one who just wants to talk or doesn’t want to talk, but wants to feel seen and heard and connected with.


Never underestimate the importance of your own human connection, even with those teens who seem not to give you the time of day or insult you or ignore you. Sometimes they don’t know what they’re doing. Sometimes if they feel a sense of care coming towards them, it causes them to react that way. But stay with them. Keep diverting their attention also towards the positive and don’t hesitate. Your ability to be firm and calm, present and proactive can make all the difference.


When teens find that they can actually manage difficult feelings, when they can manage not looking like the perfect family and the perfect Christmas movie, when they can manage disappointment about gifts, disappointment about relatives who may not have expressed care in the way that they wanted to feel it, when they learn that they’re going to be OK, they learn life lessons. 


You don’t need to shield the teens in your life from challenging feelings. You just want to make sure that those challenging feelings don’t disintegrate into more harmful behaviors. 


So during this Christmas time, this holiday, winter holiday break whether you celebrate that holiday or another one that occurs at this time or none of the ones that occur at this time, the holiday spirit is in the air and encourage your students, the teens in your life to embody the better qualities, to define them, to articulate them, to express gratitude, to write thank you notes. Old-fashioned thank you notes are a wonderful way to put the kids in touch with people in their lives, people who have given them things, people who they care about. Getting them to express that, the act of physically writing a thank you, as simple as it may be, even if they don’t express very much, helps them externalize the care that they’re receiving and maybe ignoring and helps them recognize the people in their lives and how many people do so much for all of us every day.


It’s a great activity and if you can get the teens to also hand deliver those cards to people in the neighborhood, to family, to the postman, to the corner store, to the bus driver, it also helps connect them with the world around them in a human way. When they connect one on one with the world around them, possibilities start to open up for them. 


Let’s take a few moments now and do a breath meditation, mindfulness on the breathing that leads into a love and kindness exercise using this time of the holiday season to help teens. You can use the words that I’m using here or let them inspire your own cues.


Worry less about how you’re saying what you’re saying. Sometimes when you’re leading a teen in a mindfulness exercise, the words don’t come out perfectly. Important that you simply are calm and caring and enjoying the activity yourself in an authentic way and allowing them to be, just who they are, just as they are for five minutes without needing to fix anything, become anyone else or live a different life than the one that they currently have even if there are plenty of things they want to change about it.


What’s going to give them resilience and strength is their own ability to be in their bodies, in their lives and able to manage the things they love and the things that aren’t so good.


So let’s take a deep breath, inhaling, filling your belly like a pear-shaped bottle, filling the bottom of it, letting your abdomen expand and as you exhale out, pouring the air out, really exhale from the bottom all the way up so that you’re expelling all of the used air, the air where your body has drawn out, the oxygen it needs to oxygenate the blood and the cells and take four of five breaths like this where you’re noticing the way you’re breathing, bringing the air all the way in, expelling the air all the way out and each time allowing yourself to relax. Let gravity hold you up in your chair, with your feet being held by the floor and imagine that there’s a soft string that goes from your head up to the ceiling, so you don’t have to make any effort to let your head balance at the top of your neck and as you breathe in, you can make a little bit of more space between all the vertebrae and your spine, letting your neck be tall and letting yourself relax into observing the breath, inhaling and exhaling, letting go of thought, letting go of feeling and just watching the breath.


We will go for a few minutes, so you can allow yourself to just rest into this and melt into the observation on the inhalation and the exhalation. Notice how the breath seems to travel around the body, bringing oxygen to all of the cells and muscles. Imagine the toxins in your body being expelled and being replaced by freshly-oxygenated air, allowing your spine to rise, creating space where there was compression.


Now turn your attention towards the things that you’re grateful for today, thinking of five things that happened that you feel appreciative of and now five things about yourself that you’re also grateful for.


Now bring to mind someone you really care about or your whole family and using any words that you like, start stretching your own muscles of care by sending them this wish. May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you be safe and healthy and may you be surrounded by love and kindness.


Now picture yourself, everything you like about yourself, and maybe even things you don’t like about yourself and send yourself this wish. May I be happy. May I be peaceful. May I be happy and free from worry and may I experience love and kindness. 


Send yourself joy-filled wishes and even if you’re not feeling it in any particular emotional way right now, still practice stretching your muscles of care, sending yourself good wishes.


And you can begin to bring your attention back, noticing your breath, going in and going out, noticing the pressure of your weight on the chair, noticing your hands, the temperature, what they’re touching and you can begin to move your fingers and toes and open your eyes if they’ve been closed and we can finish the exercise.


Thank you. If you’re doing an exercise like that with a teen, take a few minutes or a short period of time afterwards, just allowing them to be with their own experience. They might not know how they feel and then ask them. What was that like? How did it feel? How do you feel now? Is it hard to focus? Do you feel more calm? 


See what they say and the positive feelings, the things that have shifted, pick up on them and respond to them. Our feelings aren’t a democratic environment. So it’s not a one vote for one feeling and we can help teens put their attention on more wholesome aspects of their experience. It doesn’t mean that they’re denying the negative. But it gives them the inner strength and resilience to have the foundation to respond to the negative when they need to.


Having a foundation and stability is so very important for teen mental health. The period of adolescence is characterized by constant change, new self-expressions, new self-identities, new ways of seeing the world and new capacities to interact with more dimensionality with the world. Teens are growing. They’re growing in depth. Their brains are growing. Their bodies are growing and their intellect is growing and their information is growing and their skills are growing. Their capacities are growing.


It’s confusing. It’s a wonderful and miraculous and mysterious time because so many things are changing at once. You can help the teens in your life celebrate all those changes, celebrate the flux rather than being afraid of it. Learn to be on their own, learn to be quiet, learn to reflect, learn to just be curious explorers about their experience.


Our culture is habituated to label and identify and while that’s important for medical diagnoses, it’s not very useful when we start self-diagnosing or labeling our experience in ways that pigeonhole us into very small boxes.


So rather than I have anxiety, I have depression, I have bipolar disorder, I have ADHD, which is what kids may say, whether an adult or a doctor told them that or whether they just picked it up or they self-diagnosed from the internet or one of their friends had it and they said, “Oh, I’m the same as you,” better for teens to learn how to just identify the constant movement of their experience. Our feelings are like a current, a river flowing downstream and if we’re standing at the shore, watching that river flowing downstream, we are never watching the same water flow. It’s always moving. We’re always looking at different molecules of hydrogen and oxygen bonded together in a current that’s moving.


So if they feel sad, maybe they can see how the sadness sometimes feels heavy, sometimes feels light, sometimes feels gray, sometimes feels white, sometimes feels blue, sometimes feels green, sometimes feels quiet, sometimes feels loud and if you notice it without getting in – getting lost in that feeling, it changes all the time.


I’m not suggesting that you encourage teens to delve into their feelings. That can sometimes be a rabbit hole that you don’t want them to get lost in. But if they say they’ve been feeling sad for five days straight, say, “Oh, how does that feeling change? Is it sometimes loud? Is it sometimes soft?”


Be interested. Have a light touch. Get them to be scientists of their experience. Have them gain self-knowledge. Oh, I thought it was one solid experience but it goes up and down. 


Oh, I thought it was one intense experience but sometimes it’s quiet and sometimes it’s loud. Encourage your teens to become interested in the movement, just like they become interested in the breath going in and the breath going out. There are going to be times for teens to reflect on their experience and times particularly when they have a caring adult who can help guide them if they’re experiencing particularly challenging thoughts.


But it’s a matter of habit if they can become interested in their experience, in the movement, in the changeability, in what affects it. How if they get cold or hungry or tired their feelings change in a certain way.


Oh, isn’t that interesting? It’s cause and effect. Get them to be interested from that place of observation because that place of observation as a scientist of their experience, they’re collecting data. They are learning. They have tools in their hand. They can discover. They can work with them.


Those tools, whether they’re practicing mindful awareness or they’re simply in a situation they find challenging will help them find their own footing. 


The whole goal of these exercises, of practicing mindful awareness in all of its different forms is to create inner strength for outer stability, inner strength and solidity and purpose and trust and confidence and outer stability to manage all of the changing and challenging circumstances that the teens in our lives might find themselves in.


So let’s commit to making this holiday season the most sweet and enjoyable and intimate connected holiday season that we’ve ever had. Let’s do that from the inside out from making these small connections with the teens in our lives, from helping the students in our classrooms prepare for the time when they’re going to be out of structure, helping them learn to focus on the little things that make them happy and how does that feel and where does it come from and does it come from inside and can they be happy even if they know that the world is not perfect and that they’re not perfect and that everyone around us isn’t perfect.


But we can find that sense of gratitude and appreciation, openness and curiosity and calm and resilience within.


So I wish each and every one of you a very beautiful holiday season, filled with ease and contentment, generosity of spirit and optimism and may you share all of your own optimism and inspiration and enthusiasm with all the teens in your life.


Have a very happy holiday season and a very peaceful new year and I look so much forward to speaking with you in 2019.


[End of transcript]



Transcription by Prexie Magallanes as Trans-Expert at