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The study skill our teenagers really need? Mindfulness.

09 November 2018

Young people are more anxious andunhappy than previous generations. As exams get nearer, students are displayingphysical and emotional signs that they are more and more stressed anddepressed. Numerous scientific studies show that stress leads to pooreracademic performance � so what are we doing about it?

 

As parents and professionals we constantly strive toimprove the academic performance of our young people. We teach our young peoplestudy skills � exam techniques, revision skills, even time management. So whatif we can find a new study skill that helps students concentrate more, remembermore, and sleep better? What if that same study skill helps teenagers to bemore empathetic, regulate their emotions and reduce their likelihood ofdeveloping depression and anxiety?

 

Mindfulness is that study skill.

We believe that it�s time to re-frame the way we perceivemindfulness. For the sake of our young people�s health, happiness and academicsuccess, we believe that the evidence is now strong enough to show thatmindfulness should no longer be seen as a nice add-on, something to consider ifthere�s space in the curriculum and extra money in the budget.

 

Mindfulness is a way to become stronger mentally. It is apractice which involves paying close attention to the present moment with anaccepting, non-judgmental disposition. It has been subjected to rigorousacademic study, and leads to physical and chemical changes that help ourstudents study more effectively.

 

So what exactly is the scientific evidence, and why is itso relevant for teenagers preparing for exams?

 

  1. People�s brains change when they practicemindfulness. The �fight or flight� part of the brain (which is linked tostress) can shrink.
  2. The area of the brain that is linked to planning,decision making, impulse control and focusing attention appears to get bigger.This area (the pre-frontal cortex) is one of the last to develop and it issignificantly smaller in teenagers than adults.
  3. High levels of the hormone cortisol are knownto interfere with learning and memory. It is linked to reduced immunity, weightgain, depression and mental illness, and its effect on teenagers may belong-term. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce the amount of this �stresshormone�.
  4. Mindfulness can lead to improved concentration.
  5. Meditating before an exam is shown to improve examperformance.

 

 

Using mindfulness to support young people isn�t a newidea, but it is gaining momentum. Richard Burnett, in his powerful TEDtalk about mindfulness in schools, describes how one young person usedmindfulness when a friend collapsed in front of them and that, years later,young people describe to him how they used the techniques they learnt to calmthemselves as they entered exams.

 

Burnett�s charity, the UK-based Mindfulness inSchools Project, has been embraced by parents, teachers and young people � onestudy showed that 80% of young people who completed the charity�s school-basedprogramme continued using the techniques after the course finished. In the UK,which leads the way in recognizing the benefits of mindfulness, it iscommon for employers to offer mindfulness training.

 

As parents and professionals, we now have access to thispowerful new tool. Mindfulness can equip our young people with the study skillsto help them fulfil their potential and achieve their best. It�s time to startusing it.