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Find out how mindfulness can improve how you parent and relate to your teen

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By Regina G. Posadas

Do you want to have a better, healthier,  less stressful relationship with your teenager? The kind where you two can converse calmly, listen to each other, and resolve issues amicably instead of being hypercritical, yelling, and biting each other’s heads off? Then practice mindfulness, advised psychologist and Ateneo professor Dr. Cara Fernandez during her parenting seminar “Building Connections from the Inside, Out” held at the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City.

But what exactly is mindfulness and what does it entail?

Dr. Fernandez, who is also the director of the Ateneo Bulatao Center for Psychological Services, defined it as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention in a particular way—on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally—to things as they are. It allows us to see clearly whatever is happening in our lives, respond intentionally rather than blindly react, then make a better, conscious choice.”

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To be mindful, you must do the following:

  • Understand how the brain works and, in this case, your teen’s inclinations as well.

Do you wonder why teens are often emotional, angry, or moody?  Well, it’s because their pre-frontal cortex or thinking brain is not fully developed yet. What is very much in charge is their amygdala or emotional brain, said Dr. Fernandez. “Without mindfulness, we (parents) emotionally react and let our amygdala dominate, too. With mindfulness, what happens is we transfer brain energy to the prefrontal cortex or the part of the brain that thinks and reasons and is thoughtful. The brain learns to use new pathways,” she explained.

If it angers or upsets you that your child prefers to hang out more with her friends than with family members and that she is almost always online and glued to her gadget, keep these facts in mind: One, teens are wired to seek other teens out. This is to prepare them and to develop the skills they need to eventually leave their parents and build a new community. Two, teens will take risks and explore as part of growing up and their survival instinct. “This is where gadgets and YouTube and social media come in. Evolutionary, it’s related to making sense of the environment they’re in,” said Dr. Fernandez.

  • Do exercises to train the mind and increase self-awareness.

During the seminar, Dr. Fernandez introduced and guided all attendees—parents with teenagers like me—through two helpful exercises: “Be still and know” and “Parsing.” Both activities called for a relaxed stance, quiet time, deep/calming breaths, and introspection. They were easy to do (taking only a few minutes to complete) and effective and were reminders that we all have to slow down and stop from time to time so as not to be overwhelmed with the demands of work and family and to have a more positive perspective of life. I particularly liked parsing, or what Dr. Fernandez termed “paghihimay” in Filipino, because it made me feel like I had better control and insight of the given parenting situation after identifying and listing my thoughts, emotions, body sensations, and reactions.

  • Keep learning and practicing.

“Mindfulness is more than yoga. This is not something that you just learn to do and you’re done for the day. We build on that ability (mindfulness) through practice,” stressed Dr. Fernandez. Her recommendation: Practice focusing on breathing and thinking and being in a state of calm for about 20 to 30 minutes per day, six days a week. Practice your attention muscle so that you are able to catch yourself more quickly and notice all the time what you’re thinking about and feeling. Parse every now and then. Before driving off and going to work for example, parse for a minute or two while you sit in the car. Ask yourself, “What bothers me?” and “Where is my mind right now?”

The happiest people in the world, she said, have no knee-jerk, automatic reactions because they have already created or found the space between stimulus and response. “Don’t let emotions highjack you and take control and destroy your intentions of having a good, productive discussion or conversation with your teen. Take back control of your mind with mindfulness.”

 

For more on mindfulness and related seminars/workshops, contact the Ateneo Bulatao Center at ateneobulataomindfulness@gmail.com, 02 426 5982, 0956 518 0234 or 0999 379 5616.

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