Home Youth Leaders Articles for Youth Leaders Mindfulness and Stressed-Out Teens: Turn the Focus to Jesus

Mindfulness and Stressed-Out Teens: Turn the Focus to Jesus

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Mindfulness is a hot topic these days. But is it right for Christian teenagers? Consider these thoughts from youth ministry expert Rick Lawrence.

The most stressed-out people in the world are sitting in your youth room every Wednesday night. Listen and you’ll likely hear teenagers complaining about their workload. Homework, college apps, choir tryouts, after-school jobs, SAT prep, chaos at home…

The list of woes is long. And kids aren’t blowing smoke. According to an American Psychological Association study, no demographic in contemporary culture is more stressed out than adolescents.

Gina Biegel, a psychotherapist and founder of Stressed Teens, studies teenagers who’ve sought counseling to help with stress. She’s noticed how unaware most kids are of their tech-saturated environment and the almost-constant noise it produces.

“Teens are really never in silence,” Biegel tells CNN’s digital correspondent Kelly Wallace. “They never have this moment just to be with their thoughts. Be with who they are and actually what that feels like, to learn how to be comfortable by yourself.”

The Art of Mindfulness

When Biegel helped overwhelmed and burned-out teens learn “mindfulness” techniques, they saw a profound reduction in anxiety, depression, obsessive symptoms, and interpersonal problems. Now “mindfulness” isn’t just a New Age word.

Ellen Langer, a Harvard psychologist and author of Mindfulness, gives a deeper meaning. She advocates a slow-down-and-pay-attention lifestyle that not only reduces stress. It also helps us focus on what’s most important in our lives.

Langer says, “When you’re being mindful, you’re simply noticing new things. Mindfulness is what you’re doing when you’re at leisure. [For example] if you are on a vacation, you’re looking for new things. It’s enjoyable rather than taxing. It’s mostly energy-begetting, not energy-consuming.”

Patrick Cook-Deegan, whose mentoring organization helped schools develop mindfulness programs, says, “A large part of being a human being is having social, emotional, and attention skills. And in the majority of schools I visit, we don’t actually teach kids how to pay attention or how to deal with their inner states in a healthy way.”

Mindfulness With Jesus

Mindfulness in our approach to helping students pursue Jesus can not only help them find mental and emotional space in their lives. It could be the key to finding intimacy in their relationship with him.

The great English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote:

Earth’s crammed with heaven.

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees takes off his shoes;

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

The difference between paying attention to Jesus’ stories and teachings as if “every common bush” was “afire with God,” and spending our days “sitting round” them and “plucking blackberries”? It hinges on curiosity—a core practice in mindfulness.