One of the most surprising trends going among teenagers going into the New Year is, of all things, meditation.
It’s due in large part to the growth of scientific research that suggests meditation can help teens to reduce stress, regulate emotions and boost grades.
Meditation is now being taught in schools across America.
Actor Russell Brand meditated with students at Phillip and Sala Burton Academic High School in San Francisco, where officials say meditation has brought down violence and improved academic performance.
Research suggests meditation has benefits for both grownups and children, including improved focus, better test scores, boosted immune systems and lower blood pressure.
In a 2011 study published in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, a team of researchers from Harvard University found that after eight weeks of meditation, first-time meditators were able to grow the gray matter in the areas of the brain associated with self-awareness and compassion and shrink the gray matter in the area of the brain associated with stress.
Neuroscience has also shown that meditation can effectively rewire key areas of the brain that are associated with stress, self-awareness and compassion.
Elisha Goldstein is a psychologist and the author of the book “Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion.” He and his wife, Stefanie, developed the Connecting Adolescents to Learning Mindfulness (CALM) program, which, through meditation, teaches teens how to more effectively deal with change, stress, disappointments and overwhelming emotions.
Since teenagers have shorter attention spans than adults, Goldstein and his wife often incorporate playful activities, such as hiking or music, into the program.
Because a teen’s brain undergoes important transformations, meditation can lay the groundwork for a lifetime of improved resilience and focus, Goldstein said. The benefits are especially important in an era when teenagers’ attention spans are so fractured by digital devices.
“So there's this incredible opportunity to lay the foundation to experience a sense of personal control, so you cultivate a sense of emotional intelligence and to learn how to connect with people in meaningful ways and that lays the foundation for the adult years that follow,” he said.
Chloe Ashton, 16, the daughter of ABC News contributor Dr. Jen Ashton, recently learned to meditate.
“Since I've been meditating, I’ve noticed that I'm more relaxed and I face problems a little bit differently than I might have,” she said. “I look at them with more of an open mind, but I've also only been meditating for a couple weeks. I'm excited to see the changes in the future.”