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A Living and Learning Tool for Teens

By Office of Communication Services    Published on 07/08/2014 More stories >>


a  group of young adults.

Dr. Le (top) has implemented promising mindfulness-based programs with diverse groups of young adults.

Teenagers today face a multitude of challenges in an increasingly complex world, but Thao Le has a powerful tool for them: awareness and insight into their own minds. Dr. Le, a Family and Consumer Sciences investigator, is researching how mindfulness, a traditional technique with roots in Buddhist meditation and other contemplative practices, can assist vulnerable adolescents through their development into adulthood.

Mindfulness is the ability to bring focus, attention, and awareness to the present moment. Many young adults struggle with impulse control, relationships, and self-worth, and mindfulness encourages non-judgmental acceptance and kindness to oneself regardless of mental and emotional challenges. It fosters an objective perspective that helps in understanding and transforming negative ideas and beliefs into positive behavior.

Dr. Le has brought mindfulness training to atrisk youth in Vietnam and Cambodia and on Native American reservations on the Mainland. In Hawai‘i, she has implemented promising mindfulness-based programs with two groups of young adults: military youth and teens in prison. Research suggests that the unique stressors of military life can cause higher rates of anxiety and other difficulties for young adults in military families. In 2012 and 2013, through a partnership with 4-H’s Operation: Military Kids, Dr. Le led a mindfulness-based adventure camp for military youth in Hawai‘i focusing on physical fitness, mental fitness, and personal leadership. The camp provided a comfortable space and structure where the teens could share their experiences, insecurities, and fears for the future. The response to the camp experience was very positive, and the kids felt they had developed better coping and relational skills.

For incarcerated youth, the problems and the stakes are even higher. Dr. Le has provided mindfulness training to teens at the Hawai‘i Youth Correctional Facility and found significant improvements on their stress level and immune function. Teens also reported improvements in their ability to be aware of their emotions and thoughts, and data on recidivism rates are being compiled. The Office of Youth Services recently contracted with Dr. Le to provide training in mindfulness and her mindfulness-based program to several agencies serving youth and families in Hawai‘i.

Adolescence is a tumultuous time of great risk and even greater potential. Through Dr. Le’s mindfulness-based programs, Hawai‘i’s teens can develop their minds into incredible resources that will support them throughout their lives.