Tag Team Tech: Wrestling with Teens and Technology April 2017
Mindful Technology: Using Apps and Gadgets in Mindfulness Programming
Mindfulness programs, including yoga, guided meditation, and mindful breathing have been appearing in schools as regular part of curriculum and programming for all grade levels, from kindergarten through college-age. Introducing children and teens to mindfulness activities and programs has proven to have a positive effect on their well-being, health, and relationships. “. . . teaching mindfulness to youth offers them a form of meta-strategic knowledge that can be useful for the experiences and challenges that accompany their burgeoning autonomy” (Broderick). Evaluations of the effectiveness of mindfulness for teens, in particular, has become a growing area of study for researchers. One study of note is the Mindfulness in Schools Project (http://mindfulnessinschools.org), which involved students between the ages of twelve to sixteen. Outcomes including well-being, mental health, and stress were evaluated. The project aimed to support specifically interpersonal relationship skills, well-being, anxiety, and stress management, as well as performance in academic and extracurricular activities. In an evaluation, the posttest in the project revealed a significant reduction in depression for the intervention group, in comparison to the control group in the study (Lawlor).
A similar evaluation was done for another academic mindfulness program, MindUP (https://mindup.org/thehawnfoundation). In this program, students in fourth through seventh grade were taught to focus on one’s breathing, and practice sensory experiences such as attentive listening, smelling, and tasting. The students then reflect upon what they are grateful for in their own lives and think about service towards others and community improvement. The program evaluation showed increases in optimism and self-esteem, as well as reported improvements of classroom social and emotional competence (Lawlor).
A strong case, then, can be made for mindfulness programming in schools, but what role can the library play? Offering space and information resources for such programming is just the beginning. Many librarians are already facilitating mindfulness programming, which sometimes looks like meditation guided by a knowledgeable member of the community, or sometimes by a librarian. This excerpt from the Programming Librarian blog gives a great example of just paying attention to breathing as a form of meditation exercise: “We follow the breath and stare into the void. We don’t chant. We don’t repeat mantras. We just breathe. We sit in chairs or on the floor (depending on the age or flexibility of the group). We place our hands in our laps or on our thighs. And we breathe.”
Mindfulness might be viewed as being strictly “low-tech,” as we figure it’s probably more relaxing to power down smartphones and laptops in order to unwind. However, there are surprisingly a number of ways to allow technology to assist in mindfulness programming. With limited financial or staffing resources, free apps can help by offering guidance, relaxing sounds and music, as well as progress tracking. Also, keep in mind there are many ways to practice mindfulness. Helping teens bring themselves into the present moment can include guided meditations (either by a person, or if you prefer, one of the apps listed below), breathing exercises, and mindful music listening, by having teens pay attention to the various sounds they hear.
As librarians serving youth, we are already aware of the challenges faced by many of the teens we meet, and mindfulness can perhaps help bring them some clarity. “. . . Practitioners must consider cognitive and emotional levels of development, emerging self-awareness, and particular strengths and vulnerabilities of the age” (Broderick).
Muse: The Brain Sensing Headband
(Requires an iOS or Android-based device, free app download) $249
When used in a college finals relaxation program called Brain Fuel, freshmen at DePaul University reported feeling generally more confident as well as able to stay focused. Muse is equipped with headband sensors that detect alpha and beta brain waves, sensing if the brain is in a calm or attentive state. Users listen to ambient or nature sounds, the sound of birds appearing when the brain is calm for long periods of time. While the price of the Muse headband might be a deterrent, when it comes to brain-sensing technology it’s probably the most affordable and accessible device. Muse has circulated in some academic libraries and can very easily transport across a library system as part of a kit.
These apps can be used by an individual, or if hooked up to a speaker or stereo system, are easily adaptable to be used in a group. With the exception of Three Minute Mindfulness, they are available for both iOS and Android. If teens enjoy their app-led meditation sessions, encourage them to download these free apps onto their own personal devices.
Aura: Mindfulness Daily – Stress & Anxiety Relief
(Free, with optional in-app purchases)
In the free version, Aura gives you the ability to access three or seven-minute meditations every day, customized to individual needs, if necessary. Three minutes is a quick and easy timeframe, especially with potentially skeptical participants. Aura allows you to choose a mood (ranging from okay, stressed, great) and will adjust accordingly. A guided meditation then will ask you to pay attention to bodily tensions, thoughts, emotions, and asks you to “be the awareness itself.” A journaling option is also available to record any feedback, reflections, or additional thoughts.
Stop, Breathe, & Think: Meditation and Mindfulness
(Free, with optional in-app purchases)
This app claims to help create a “personal forcefield of calm and peace” and who doesn’t want a forcefield? This app gives you the option of creating an account, but browsing is just okay too, which is optimal with using this app in a group setting. The app will prompt you with a “check in” to breathe and think about how your mind and body feel. After the self-assessment, you can tap into some word association that best describes feelings, and suggested meditation exercises will appear, based on what you’ve just entered in. This app’s teen-friendly design allows for both guided and self-exploration and gives a good breakdown of what positive benefits mindfulness has, such as investigate what’s going on in your head, and how that may impact feelings and actions. This app is also available on the web at app.stopbreathethink.org, if a mobile device isn’t available.
Three Minute Mindfulness: Meditation and Breathing App
(Free, with optional in-app purchases)
NOTE: iOS devices only.
Unlike Aura, this app doesn’t require a login, so you can meditate immediately after downloading. There are many lessons that rotate, the first usually being available for free, the rest downloadable. The app explains mindfulness exercises, defining mindfulness as “paying attention in the present moment without judgment” and also being “aware of existing in the present moment, including thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations.”
Mindfulness and Meditation Programs. http://www.programminglibrarian.org/blog/mindfulness-and-meditation-programs
“Low-tech” mindfulness programming at the public library, namely breathing exercises and yoga.
Mindfulness in Schools Project. http://www.mindfulnessinschools.org
Resources for mindfulness practice at home, including exercises that can be done on any laptop that includes audio and video.
Technology for Mindfulness. http://www.technologyformindfulness.com
Blog with helpful app suggestions, studies, and tips and tricks to use technology for mindfulness practice. “We also believe, perhaps more modestly, that technology with mindfulness in mind can at least not act as an affirmative distraction.”
Broderick, Patricia C., and Jennifer L. Frank. “Learning to BREATHE: An Intervention to Foster Mindfulness in Adolescence.” New Directions for Youth Development, vol. 2014, no. 142, Summer2014, pp. 31-44. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1002/yd.20095.
Lawlor, Molly Steward. “Mindfulness in Practice: Considerations for Implementation of Mindfulness-Based Programming for Adolescents in School Contexts.” New Directions for Youth Development, vol. 2014, no. 142, Summer2014, pp. 83-95. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1002/yd.20098.
Janice Scurio is a teen services librarian in Madison, Wisconsin. With an extensive background in information technology, she has served as an expert advisor for other libraries looking to implement more youth STEM programming, such as Minecraft and LEGO robotics. When not at the library, she enjoys karaoke, eating sushi, running marathons, and making fun electronic music.