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Probing and Listening

I felt sick as I got on the boat, and it wasn’t even moving yet. I was convinced that the boat ride and the snorkeling were not going to be fun. I had predetermined the outcome, something teens often do. Try asking them, “If this situation in your life was a movie, how would the end play out?” Their response will give you an insight into their world and a vantage point from which to help and support them. I’ve learned so many times that something that might appear quite small to us could be a teen’s Achilles heel or the biggest trauma they’re facing in their life at that particular moment. Try to respect teens where they are, even if you don’t agree with them about what is important. Doing this will get you far. The opposite will stop you in your tracks.

Mindful listening and respect are offerings you can give no matter what role you play in a teen’s life. Teens often don’t feel heard, particularly by adults. If you can provide a different experience for them, you might be able to build a stronger relationship. You might be surprised by the quality of the communication and the respect you get back. Listening and showing respect are not new concepts, but being present in a mindful way deepens the shared experience.

See, Hear, Feel

As I got in the water and began to snorkel, I noticed the flippers were hurting my feet. I forgot to breathe only through my mouth, and took a lot of salt water in through my nose, which was unpleasant. I felt cold and noticed how different the part of my body above the water felt from the part beneath. And then, “Oh my gosh—beauty, amazement!”

I saw a world I’d never seen before: the colors, all the small and big fish, the coral, and how it all formed a community. I noticed how the fish moved in schools, how they glided through the water. I was wondering why some fish were closer together and others farther apart. A visitor to their world, I was seeing something with fresh eyes. I encourage the teens I work with to see things with fresh eyes. I try to elicit what they see in their world—what makes up their world and what gives them purpose. I inquire about the different relationships in their lives—what schools of fish they hang out with—to get an in-depth look into their world. Sometimes their world can seem as new to me as snorkeling for the first time.

I find it quite helpful to use our senses to experience what mindfulness is rather than relying on a definition. Have a teen tell you what they see, smell, hear, touch, and taste in any given moment. First, it will get them to be present, right here in this moment. Second, they might notice something they have seen a thousand times, but never noticed. You can ask them to share what they see, smell, and so on, and then share things you noticed that they didn’t, and vice versa. You will learn from them by doing this, which can happen in so many moments with teens if you are open.


I wanted to experience this first snorkeling adventure as my own, and not how other people told me it was going to be. Don’t assume a teen’s experience will be like yours or what works for you or what you enjoy will be the same for them. Letting a teen experience mindfulness for themselves is best. We all know how freeing a mindful moment can be, like my first mindful moment snorkeling in the water. It’s most helpful if you can provide a space for a teen to have such moments, rather than trying to replicate your own experience.

While I was in the water, I saw the fish as a sea community: all connected as friends, siblings, parents, partners, teachers, and so on. We too play many roles that connect us to a larger community. At times people ask whose responsibility it is to teach our youth to be well-rounded, educated people who are emotionally and socially savvy. Who is assigned that task? We all are. If we are mindful, we can make a difference in teens’ lives no matter how we encounter them. And, who knows, they might teach us a thing or two and help us see with fresh eyes.

Gina Biegel is the author of
The Stress Reduction Workbook for Teens and the CD, Mindfulness for Teens: Meditation Practices to Reduce Stress and Promote Well-Being. She is also the founder of Stressed Teens, which introduces youths, families, educators, and professionals to the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Teens program.

Illustration by Eric Hanson.

See the July 2011 issue of the Shambhala Sun to read this complete article. Click here to browse the entire issue online.

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