After World War II, kids and teens faced a difficult reality full of challenges and tensions. Yet when researcher Jean Twinge, a psychology expert from the University of San Diego, investigated this issue, she saw that today's kids and teens are dealing with higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression at a rate that's 5 to 8 times greater than the kids of the Great Depression.
An article published by the American Psychological Association showed an alarming trend according to which teens feel as much pressure as adults, which should sound an alarm for everyone who cares about the future of the younger generation.
The modern world brings a long series of new challenges to kids and teens such as higher expectations, tougher competition, addiction to screens and more and more outside stimuli. Yet the world today also has more opportunities than ever before to share knowledge and ideas which may help us all find effective ways to ease our kids' anxieties while empowering and nurturing them.
How can you stay focused?
Dr. Bill Stixrud is a clinical neuropsychologist specializing in ADHD and learning disabilities. He believes that in order to help kids and teens, it's first important to understand the unique way in which their brains work.
Stixrud says that the adolescent brain is very creative and adaptable, but also much more vulnerable. Stress affects the brains of kids and teens much more than it affects adults' brains. Be aware that stress can also change them in ways which will affect them long-term.
Stixrud states that from an evolutionary point of view one can certainly understand why this happens. The areas of our brain that evolved to deal with danger are designed to function in situations like a lion threatening to eat someone or a flood which destroys a simple home.
In these situations, those who survived were those focused on containing the danger they faced. Yet the area of the brain that produces the stress response doesn't differentiate between stress due to being late for work, a big test or dealing with a predatory animal.
For four decades, Stixrud followed many fascinating developments in brain research and saw that in the field of education there's an overwhelming agreement that the optimal state that enables proper learning is relaxed alertness.
Stixrud claims that to be focused, you have to be calm and alert. When we're threatened for any reason the brain simply doesn't function in a way that allows one to do anything else.
He recommends that every parent and teacher teach kids ways to help them reduce stress to stay in a state of relaxed alertness and improve brain function. This includes transcendental meditation. He even expands and says that knowing how TM can improve the lives of children and teenagers, it's cruel not to teach them or find someone to show them the method.
From mental health to social skills: This is how meditation benefits children
Transcendental meditation spread throughout the world in the 1950s and has been practiced ever since. It's been investigated via 600 scientific studies in 250 universities and research institutes around the world.
One fascinating study on the subject published in 2008 found that TM helped teens significantly reduce the stress and especially the chronic anxiety they face. A long series of additional studies, which were also conducted on adults, found that the practice has a high probability of improving mood, strengthening self-confidence and even improving sleep, which is known to affect physical and mental health in many ways.
To enjoy the effectiveness of TM it must be practiced at the start and end of each day after a short, basic instruction. During the practice, which takes about twenty minutes and is performed while sitting comfortably, you close your eyes and use a mantra that helps you "dive" into the depths of consciousness, easily and without too much effort.
Stixrud states that he sees when youth practice TM twice daily, they experience improvement in many crucial areas. One significant point is reduction in reactivity, as TM helps kids learn to process unpleasant events and think before reacting.
When he speaks to vulnerable kids, he emphasizes that they first need to build resilience to tensions and pressures so that they can handle challenges without running away or breaking down.
Yosef is a pediatrician and adolescent doctor and a veteran practitioner of Transcendental Meditation.