It is not news that stress is taking a serious toll on adults.
But what about the demands on our kids? If they are fortunate enough to be in the 80% of children in the US living above the poverty line, at the very least their stresses include learning how to navigate their bodies, their families, their social relationships and the pressure of an increasingly technological society.
Adults have a lifetime of data and experience to understand why we act the way we do under stress, but our children do not. While we can't be with them every step of the way, we can give them a tool kit. And we can fill it with tools that they can use on their own, when they need them. We can give them a powerful practice of meditation which will help them navigate their way to adulthood and and adapt to a world that is changing at an exponential rate.
In 1996 Harvard University did a study on the Global Burden of Disease. This study projected that by 2020 psychiatric and neurological conditions could increase by half. From 10.5 percent of the total burden to almost 15 percent. This is a larger proportionate increase than cardiovascular diseases.
This is why stress is being called the Black Plague of our century. Stress is responsible for 90% of doctor's visits. Meditation is the most powerful stress-relieving tool we have and the beautiful part about it is that once you have some training in a style you love, there are virtually no side effects like there are with anti- anxiety medications. Imagine your child after a deep, restful night of sleep. Imagine your child creating fearlessly, being fully present, having a clear intuitive voice, and being able to calm themselves when anxiety creeps up. Sounds pretty great, right?
The Dalai Lama once said that "If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation." I couldn't agree more.
Teaching meditation in schools is a pretty new phenomenon in the US, and it is already catching on like wildfire.
A school in Baltimore, Maryland replaced detention with something called the Mindful Moment Room where kids are encouraged to sit still and breathe with their eyes closed. There has been zero suspensions since the program started up over a year ago.
In this New York Times piece that highlights different schools' approaches to meditation (from 15 minutes of quiet time in the morning, to softly lit rooms, to teachers who received mindfulness training) a public school superintendent in Louisville, Kentucky pointed out that in classrooms many teachers will demand the child "Focus!", asking "Why aren't you focusing?" Following up with the point that maybe WE haven't given them the tools to do so.
Some schools in the Bay Area that used to be described as "dominated by stress and fighting" have gone full throttle in filling the toolboxes of their students and started offering training in Meditation. There are two fifteen minute periods of quiet integrated into the school day during which students are invited to do their meditation practice or other quiet, calming activities. A 2015 review of the program showed that the benefits among students ranged from reduced stress, increased emotional intelligence, and reduced suspensions to increased attendance and academic performance.
It is so thrilling as a meditation teacher to see so many institutions putting these powerful practices into play starting at such a young age. The goal is simple: to help our kids get into the habit of keeping themselves grounded while finding ways to increase their creativity so they are better able to deal with the demands in front of them.
I would like to offer the point that we can even start this in the home. We can give them language and tools to turn their attention inward with an incredibly powerful stress relieving tool to bring with them through their days.