Health & Harmony
By Dr. Nancy Gahles
Middle Schoolers at Risk for Suicidal Thoughts
Middle schoolers are our future. Middle schoolers are our hope for creating a better world. Middle school comprises the 6th,7th and 8th grades where children are in the age group between 12-15. Supporting our teens through this time of emotional growth and development is crucial if our teens are going to actualize their potential and become self assured, powerful co-creators of their own lives.
Early adolescence is a time of tempestuous changes in physical, mental, emotional and social spheres. It is a time when peer pressure abounds. Peer pressure outwardly or inwardly generated to perform academically can challenge a developing sense of self worth. Peer pressure to conform to the social modes of behavior as witnessed in the bullying phenomenon threatens to corrupt the moral values we, as parents, have worked so hard to instill in our children. Peer pressure to look a certain way can lead to eating disorders, self-harming and isolation patterns. Peer pressure is only one area of challenge during middle school. There are many other challenges that beset the growing adolescent and when left to their own devices the coping strategies they devise may be harmful.
The oft joked about adolescent who doesn’t want to engage with the family and is constantly in his/her room with the headphones on or glued to their devices is more often the norm than not. It is a common response for parents to give their child space in order to foster independence or not to rock the boat and keep the peace. Research, and common sense, shows that an adolescent who has healthy interaction with engaged parents and positive role models will develop healthier strategic thinking than those left to figure it out on their own. Although they may want to make decisions on their own, early adolescents still need guidance and support in their choices.
An elegant solution has emerged in response to a study co-funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).
The pilot study involved 100 sixth graders. They were randomly assigned to an Asian history class with daily mindfulness practice or an African history class with a matched activity (control group) that involved constructing a life-sized model of a Pharaoh’s coffin. During the study, the teacher in the meditation group led students in silent meditation at the beginning of the class. The initial meditation periods lasted 3 minutes, and the final meditation periods lasted up to 12 minutes. Participants learned breath awareness and breath counting, labeling of body sensations, labeling of thoughts and emotions, and body sweeps. During the final 2 weeks, students could choose any of the various meditation techniques. After a 6 week study period the participants completed questionnaires.
The results were powerful. The students who meditated during a 6 week classroom-based mindfulness meditation program were significantly less likely than non-meditators to develop suicidal thoughts or self-harming thoughts or behaviors. The study also found that mindfulness meditation showed improvements in internalizing problems, externalizing problems, attention problems and affect.
(Reference: Britton WB, Lepp NE, Niles HF, et al. A randomized controlled pilot trial of classroom-based mindfulness meditation compared to an active control condition in sixth grade children. Journal of School Psychology.2014;52(3):263-278.
The take away here is that we can encourage our middle schoolers to develop in a way that enhances their emotional, psychological and spiritual development through simple, effective mindfulness mediation. This will lead to mindful behavior and a mindful lifestyle that generates optimal productivity and peaceful co-existence with those other humans on this planet with whom you will necessarily have to relate to on the journey.
Keep it simple, my friends. When you assess your middle-schoolers performance at the Parent-Teacher Conference tuck this information into the back of your mind. How much is the need for tutoring and how much is the need for meditation? When you assess their social behaviors and connectedness, how could meditation help? When you how they handle stressful situations think, how could meditation help?
Sometimes the simple solution is the elegant solution. The advent and prevalence of use of internet technology (IT) among the adolescent populations offers advantages for them to achieve independence in self care that is consistent with their growth and development and adds to the mindful strategic co-creating of their health. The disruptive innovator here is TeleHealth. Consultation, information prescriptions and teaching/coaching of mindfulness meditation practices among other stress/anxiety management practices can be accessed via smartphones, Skype, FaceTime, Google hangouts and more. In my practice, the use of TeleHealth for college students living away from home has been quite successful.
The promise of IT utilization in healthcare for non-emergency situations is the promise of accessible, cost effective healthcare and the empowerment of our adolescents and beyond.
For more information on how mindfulness meditation can assist your middle-schooler, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 718-634-4577.
May The Blessings Be!