Troubled Kids & Meditation in Schools

Children displaying bad behaviors in school seems to be be an ongoing crisis in school districts across the United States. Most recently I heard about Philadelphia school district teacher troubles, where 50% of test scores in math, science, and English, do not pass proficiency (NBC10). Bad behavior impacts the child’s ability to learn and concentrate, but the teachers are also pushed to their emotional limits when dealing with these issues.

 Roughly 500 teachers in the Philadelphia school district were surveyed about their working conditions and student behaviors. 59% of teachers have considered leaving their profession entirely due to the stresses caused from their jobs (NBC10).

To put into perspective, here are some quotes from the teachers:

“I have high school kids who read at a kindergarten level”

“Chaos. I can describe it as students running around in school like a pack of wolves all day long.”

How can this problem be solved? Some suggest more funding to schools, other suggest smaller class sizes, but a new method coming to light is bringing meditation to the classroom.

Methods of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness are working their way into classrooms through a program called FY (For Youth Meditation Program) or similar. These practices are  theorized to help students with their anger, stress, or anxiety, through mindfully paying attention. This can be done through various techniques which include breathing, thought focus, sound focus, and other forms.

The claimed benefits from youth meditation include:

  • Exploring self-awareness
  • Reduction in stress and anxiety
  • Decreases aggression
  • Improves focus and concentration
  • Improves quality of sleep

With a list like this, it seems like meditation might be the miracle cure American school districts need.

However, not all schools have picked up on this “miracle cure.” As this is a new practice in schools, there lacks scientific support that meditation would be beneficial to children with behavioral issues.

I found a dissertation, which includes case studies, from Sara King at UCLA that puts this question of whether or not meditation is beneficial to the test. The document goes to say that meditation is a form of intervention for these troubled students. King’s goal is to determine the effeteness of this practice. Yet, King’s findings concluded that is is questionable that meditation or yoga is suitable for students k-12. Likewise, school districts are inconsistent with the definition of student well-being and perhaps there are different interventions suitable for different school contexts.

What I found most interesting about King’s dissertation is the interviews she had with the students participating in meditation intervention.

For instance, “Paulina referred to the ability of the practices to bring about a “peaceful mood” and is the only one to specifically describe using the practices to “focus” and “not get distracted” before a test. She also used the phrase “…inside I feel like everything is going smoothly,” and states that she is able to “breathe normally” to refer to her experience after engaging in the breath work practices.” P52 

However, another student interviewed has a different response, ” Aliyah, stated that the FY program has not helped her for the worse or the better, and that she just feels “normal”. It is worth it to mention that during my interviews with Aliyah and Waheeda, I got the impression that they both seemed to feel as though they had normal levels of stress in their lives; both of them had no difficulties socially with their peers, family members or teachers; there was no reported history or trauma, and they both described themselves as motivated, academically successful students prior to the FY intervention. Aliyah and Waheeda both spoke of the FY practices as helpful, but neither of them indicated that participating in FY had a particularly transformative impact.” P55

What do I take away from all of this?

I feel that meditation is a tool that can assist with alleviating stress or anxiety. But just like any other tool, you have to want to use it in order to get the job done. Though some students from the case study did not have reported high levels of stress, those reported to have high stress seemed to benefit from the experience.

Meditation is only a band aide to some children dealing with deeper complexities in their lives. For instance, unstable home environments may cause students to have poor behaviors and emotions. Meditation, though can help take away some stress, is not the cure for their unchosen lifestyles.

I do not think it should be mandatory for all students to participate in meditation practices. If students are behaving poorly then maybe incorporating some class wide mindfulness could benefit, but I think targeting detention rooms would be more impactful. I know there are schools specifically targeting children in detention, changing the standard practices of detention to provoke a change in student attitude. I have not found any studies to confirm the effectiveness on this and will update if I find anything new.

I think, however, stress-management should be incorporated in classes such as health or physical education. That way students who are not currently suffering from high stress have the opportunity to learn healthy coping mechanisms if something would happen to change. Meditation and mindfulness could be incorporated alongside other tools to be taught in the stress-management course.

Though, this is all completely my opinion of meditation in schools, I think it is a great step forward. Trying something new like meditation to see if student behaviors change could work out well in the long run. Not only does it seem to help students with their stress, but the teachers might want to stay at their jobs too!

Sources:

NBC10: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2B8yRx5_mU

Mindfulness for youth: http://youthmeditation.org/mindful-youth/

UCLA dissertation by Sara King: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/57v9q3m8

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