The advent of smartphones and social media ushered an era of hyper-connectivity that made connecting with anyone across the world possible.
It made keeping tabs with the people we love super easy, enabling us to get in touch with a few taps and swipes on our smartphones.
Aside from social media, there are literally millions of apps out there, with kids owning a big share of the pie thanks to games and Facebook, Instagram, and others to name a few.
As early as 2 years old, kids start interacting with smartphones and tablets for entertainment.
However, as they grow older, the rabbit hole into addiction begins. The average age of kids creating their social media account according to a study conducted by Influence Central in 2016 is 11 years old.
With all that convenience and connectivity, you’d probably think that kids these days are a lot luckier compared to youngsters from previous generations.
However, the opposite couldn’t be truer.
Case in point: This 2018 article from BBC News revealed the shocking increase of antidepressant use among children aged 12 or younger. Somehow, something tells me that the compulsive checking and emotional over-dependence on smartphones play a big role in the depression of these kids.
In fact, teen depression and suicide are linked to excessive smartphone use, if the findings mentioned in this study is to be referenced.
I know. These are pretty disturbing news. As a father myself, I can only imagine how difficult it will be to protect my 4-yr old son against the pressures of smartphone use.
Why do I mention all of this? Because I believe it’s high time for us to be truly conscious and do something about what kids these days are going through. The anxiety and stress brought about by today’s advanced and hyperconnected world can be too much for these kids. And we have to do something about it.
To sum up what I learned about the mental state of today’s kids:
Depression among kids is real, and numbers have been increasing
First off, let me be clear about it: “Meditation for kids” does not necessarily mean having children sit in cross-legged position and start humming “om” for a couple of minutes. While that’s one way of doing it, there are other plenty of ways.
The goal here is to have them experience “mindfulness”, which can be described as “being present”, to focus on one’s awareness to set a state primed for accepting one’s thoughts, feelings, and sensations in order to take control over the automatic pilot that inhabits our mind.
“My kid is not depressed or have any emotional issues. Will he still benefit from meditation?”
Absolutely. Aside from being a way to help counter depression and mental health problems, meditation can help kids balance and manage the following:
Dealing with pressure
There’s a school in West Baltimore where meditation was put in place over detention, which resulted in zero suspensions throughout the year. In San Francisco, Burton High School implemented “Quiet Time” -- essentially “meditation time” -- which resulted to suspension numbers within the year dropping by as much as 45 percent. Attendance rates got a dramatic boost too as it climbed to 98 percent.
“Providing an opportunity for these children to meditate in the classroom was beneficial and demonstrated significant reductions in emotional problems, conduct problems, hyperactivity-inattention, and peer problems, and significant improvements in prosocial behavior and self-esteem.”
How to teach kids Meditation
Make it interesting - The one thing that you don’t want to happen is to bore the kids. They naturally gravitate towards activities that require lots of movements and energy so easing them into the calm nature of this “activity” is crucial to its acceptance. Your approach will vary based on the ages of the kids you’re dealing with, as younger ones tend to be more challenging to work with. However, there are ways to do it. For example, instead of simply asking them to “watch their breath”, perhaps you can have them focus on their favorite toy while they’re doing it. Or instead of sitting inside the room, maybe you can take them outside and take “zen walks” instead (more on this later).
K.I.S.S - Keep it short and simple. The goal is to have them realize the benefits of meditation and integrate it into their daily routine as easy as possible. By keeping the activity itself simple and short, you’ll run into fewer instances of kids getting bored and giving up on meditating altogether.
Follow the leader - Be their guide. Show them how to properly do it. Don’t be too conscious or shy in meditating in front of them. By being natural with the way you act, you can help shed off their feelings of doubt and uncertainty about meditation.
Adapt and support - After each session, ask them for their thoughts. Let them share how they felt during the exercise. You can even have them draw their experiences whichever way they want to visualize it. Internalizing and recalling their experience can help in building self-awareness and expression.
Be patient - Perhaps the most important one depending on your situation. Kids can be difficult, that’s just the way it is. Learning how to adjust and exercise more patience is essential.
Ways to Meditate for Kids
Focus on hearing - Have kids close their eyes and start focusing on sounds near them and then on sounds outside (or far away). This method uses sounds as a way of being more present and aware of our surroundings.
Vocal repetition - The classic “om” mantra calms the mind. Have them sit down in a relaxed position and begin breathing in and chanting “om” as they breath out. Doing this calms and relaxes their body. It also fosters connection with other kids if done in a group setting.
Visual concentration - Turn off all lights and make the room as dark as possible. Light a candle in the middle and have everyone sit a few feet away from the candle. Have them gaze at the flame’s movements for a minute or two, then have them close their eyes. They should be able to retain the image of the flame within their minds. Have them “control” its actions: make it bigger, move faster or slower, or even change color. This exercise develops their ability to visualize and focus.
Focus on breathing - This is a variation of the classic Buddhist monk technique. Have the kids sit down and close their eyes. Have them focus on their breathing, feeling their bellies and chests as they inhale and exhale. The next step is to have them do a mental countdown from 10 to 1. When they breathe in, think of 10. As they breathe out, think of 10 again. Repeat the same process counting down to number 1. This exercise develops their focus, body awareness, and ability to visualize.
Zen Walking - For best results, use a metronome (physical or via a smartphone app). The idea is to have them follow the beat and use that as an anchor to synchronize their walking with. Start at a fast pace (150-200) and have them sync their step with each beat. Gradually decrease the pace and have the kids make sure they’re still in sync. As you go way lower (around 30 bpm), the kids should have developed increased awareness on the speed and on their steps. While at this slow pace, have them sync their breath with their steps.
Be still as a mountain - Have the kids close their eyes while sitting down. Make them aware of their current position, the room, the air, the sound. Ask them to imagine themselves as a mountain, big and steady on the ground. With each breath, their body is becoming more like a mountain: Relaxed, firm, and steady. As you near the end, have them breathe in and out while imagining they’re body returning to its normal state. This practice emphasizes relaxation and developing awareness with your body.
Amiel is a staff writer at Kaiya, who enjoys the simple things that life has to offer. When not reading, he's usually taking long walks, or spending time with his family.