Teaching Mindfulness to Teens: What’s the Secret Sauce?

How do you teach mindfulness to teens? What’s the secret sauce? 

iBme is one of only a few organizations that specializes in connecting teens with mindfulness through highly immersive programs. These excerpts from our Teen Retreat Teacher’s Manual shine light on our underlying values and beliefs — the ingredients for our signature approach.

We share this to inspire mindfulness practitioners and organizations who want to work with teens and to reassure the teens and parents who entrust us with this unique learning relationship. Whether in person or online, this is how we do it.

Teaching on a Teen Mindfulness Retreat

Teaching Mindfulness to Teens iBme TeachersTeen mindfulness retreats are powerful transformative experiences for the teens and the teachers. Teachers, staff, and teens co-create a safe, compassionate, and fun space, where everyone can feel safe to be more authentically ourselves and learn how to connect with and enjoy our lives, each other, and the natural world more deeply.

Our role as teachers on a teen retreat is to help the teens develop greater self-awareness and the foundational skills of mindfulness: to be curious, connected with and compassionate towards their bodies, emotions, mind states, motivations, and thoughts.

On retreat we also help young people learn how to apply the skills of mindfulness, curiosity, compassion, and openness to the world around them, their peers and the natural environment.

Our view is that mindfulness supports teens’ autonomy and their own “choicefulness” to respond rather than react to situations. We are not trying to fix or change teens through mindfulness, but rather to offer skills and create a space where young people can more deeply know themselves and make decisions that lead to greater well-being.

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The foundational skills of mindfulness: to be curious, connected with and
compassionate towards their bodies, emotions, mind states, motivations, and thoughts.

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It is imperative that we have faith that the teens can and will engage in the practice and the schedule, even if it’s hard and uncomfortable. It’s also important to remember that adolescents love diverse, new and different modes of learning – that’s why each teen retreat is fresh and new, responsive to what’s needed by the particular teens and what’s alive for the particular teaching team.

Mindfulness and Teens: Teaching as Mentoring

Teaching Mindfulness to Teens Teaching as MentoringTeachers on teen retreat are ultimately mindful mentors for the teens. The primary intention of a mentor is to create an authentic relationship with the youth we support — a relationship that allows the teens to develop their own self-awareness and ultimately greater self-empowerment.

The primary qualities of a mentor are authenticity, empathy, compassion and unconditional positive regard. Being a mentor, in authentic relationship with youth, becomes our primary mindfulness practice on retreat.

We practice relating to youth with a beginner’s mind – with openness, curiosity and non-judgment. We practice and model authenticity; feeling comfortable in our own skin, not overly concerned with being liked or impressing the teens. We practice skillful self-disclosure – for the purpose of, and in the best interest of the teens. We develop our own abilities to connect and relate, to listen deeply and compassionately witness, and we maintain healthy and consistent boundaries.

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We are not trying to fix or change teens through mindfulness, but rather to offer skills and
create a space where young people can more deeply know themselves
and make decisions that lead to greater well-being.

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At iBme we take a stance that we are not responsible for changing an adolescent’s behavior, only the teen themselves can make that decision. Even with teens who leave the retreat or decide that meditation is not for them, we endeavor to honor the wisdom in their choice and respect their capacity to investigate what is true for them. As mentors, we may find this easiest to do with teens we connect with, who seem to easily follow the form of the retreat and are happy to be there.

Of course it is much harder when our own beliefs and values are challenged, and that is also the time when it is most important. We do not know that this form is right for everyone. However, we do know that treating teens with respect and honesty goes a long way towards building strong relationships and support systems.

Teaching Mindfulness to Teens ChoicefulnessOur job is to create a safe space where teens can explore their own experience and through increased self-awareness, find more freedom to choose how they want to be in the world.

We are also responsible for creating safe boundaries for ourselves and the teens on the retreat. On iBme retreats these safe boundaries include the expectation that all teens will keep the “mindfulness trainings” (sometimes called “precepts”) of non-harming, kind and truthful speech, not stealing, sexual abstinence while on retreat, and abstinence from all drugs and alcohol while on retreat. If a teen breaks one of these agreements, they will be asked to leave the retreat. We also expect that all teens will follow the schedule and do their best to honor the silent periods.

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Being a mentor, in authentic relationship with youth, becomes our primary mindfulness practice on retreat.

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Ultimately, our own mindfulness practice is the most important skill and resource we have to rely on as mentors. Our mindfulness is both internal – being aware of our own, body, mind states, emotions, personality and patterns – and external – being aware of and attuned to these foundations of mindfulness in the youth we serve.

Pedagogy

We are endeavoring to offer teen-centered curriculum — not just in what we are teaching, but how we are teaching, where the teens are the center of the experience and are supported and welcomed into sharing their wisdom. We aim to be experiential in our curriculum and, even though there are teachers at the front of the room, hold a collaborative learning environment that is not top-down.

  • Make space for teens to lead the way, to ask questions, to share their wisdom and experience.
  • Ask questions to invite engagement vs telling what you already know. Be aware of your own expectations of a “right” answer, and look for the truth and value in what teens offer.
  • Hold an attitude of learning together
  • Make space for teen engagement wherever possible: especially during the first night, closing ceremony, workshops, small groups, etc. Even the wisdom talks can be a space for more collaborative process vs a traditional lecture style experience
  • Co-ownership of the retreat experience means stepping back and making space for teens to lead and supporting them in that process through encouragement and feedback.

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Our job is to create a safe space where teens can explore their own experience and through
increased self-awareness, find more freedom to choose how they want to be in the world.

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iBme Teen & Young Adult Retreat Ethos 

Teaching Mindfulness to Teens iBme Retreat EthosWe have a wide diversity of teens and young adults who attend our retreats — this means ethnic and racial diversity, sexual orientation, gender identity, abilities, socio-economic status, and different lived experiences. We believe that this is part of what makes our retreats powerful and unique. iBme retreats are a beautiful opportunity to be in a diverse community and explore both our differences and our common humanity.

A word about trauma
We recognize that many teens experience trauma in their lives and have found ways to cope in their daily lives; mindfulness can be a great support for young people in whatever ways they may find themselves experiencing hardship. However, our retreats are not designed to provide therapy and we do not practice ongoing therapeutic interventions on retreat. This means that we rely on our screening process to make sure each participant can participate fully in the retreat experience.

A word about difficult moments
Sometimes through the supportive environment of teen retreat, difficult emotions arise, and as a staff team we aim to be well prepared to support participants through challenging moments. If acute or continuous situations arise which fall outside the scope of our practice and expertise, we may recommend a teen leave the retreat to get the additional support that they need. Our aim is to support youth through grounding and presence — accessing tools within themselves to support well-being, resilience, and stability.

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iBme retreats are a beautiful opportunity to be in a diverse community
and explore both our differences and our common humanity.

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iBme is proud to be part of evolving the field of mindfulness education. Through the retreats we lead and courses we teach, our mindfulness teacher trainings, and collaborations with like-minded individuals and organizations, we work to embody the wisdom, knowledge, and best practices living mindfulness and compassion in all our actions.

View our 2018-2019 Annual Report to find out more about our efforts in the field of mindfulness education.