Settle Down Out-of-Control Teens with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“In the last few years, mindfulness has emerged as a way of treating children and adolescents with conditions ranging from ADHD to anxiety, autism spectrum disorders, depression and stress. And the benefits are proving to be tremendous.” – Juliann Garey


The last component of the nervous system to develop is the higher cortical areas that underlying behavioral inhibition; the ability to hold back responses. As a result, the adolescent brain is fully developed to produce behavior and react to the environment, but is defective in the ability to withhold or restrain behaviors when inappropriate. So, adolescents are often impulsive, take unnecessary risks, and can be inappropriately aggressive, leading to disciplinary problems.


This late development of higher level control of behavior is responsible for some troubling statistics. Young people ages 15-24 represent only 14% of the U.S. population, but they account for 30% of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among males. Regarding youth violence and aggression, 46% of males, and 26% of females reported they had been in physical fights, one million U.S. students took guns to school and six thousand were kicked out of school for packing weapons, the annual death toll from school shootings has more than doubled, the youth homicide rate increased by 168 percent, and juvenile arrest for possession of weapons, aggravated assault, robbery, and murder have risen more than 50 percent.


It is important for society to control violent and aggressive behavior and late adolescence and young adulthood are periods when the likelihood is high. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce violence and aggression in adults. So, it would seem reasonable to investigate whether mindfulness training may be effective in helping to control the aggressive tendencies of youth. In today’s Research News article “Effect of a Mindfulness Training Program on the Impulsivity and Aggression Levels of Adolescents with Behavioral Problems in the Classroom.” See:

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

Franco and colleagues recruited 12-19 year old youths who had multiple incidents of misbehavior in school. The students were randomly assigned to either receive 20-weeks of 15 minutes per day, 5 days per week, of open monitoring meditation, or to a wait list control condition. Before and after training the youths were measured for aggression and impulsivity with self-report psychometric scales.


They found that the meditation group, but not the control group, had significant reductions in overall impulsivity (14%), including significant reductions in cognitive (19%), motor (13%), and non-planned (10%) impulsivity and also significant reductions in physical (14%) and verbal (24%) aggression, and hostility (19%) and anger (16%). All of these effects had large significant effect sizes. Hence, meditation training produced marked reduction in impulsivity and aggression in these troubled adolescents.


These are impressive results and suggest that meditation may be very effective in helping adolescents control their impulsivity and aggression. Gaining control over their behavior may allow them to engage in their education without distraction. Meditation may have this impact as a result of its ability to improve emotion regulation, providing the youths with the ability to cope with emotions in a more positive and adaptive way. It may also act by decreasing rumination and worry and thereby reduce the effects of past issues and worries about the future to intrude on present behavior. Regardless of the explanation, the results are exciting and suggest that meditation practice should be tried for troubled youth in other settings.


So, settle down out-of-control teens with mindfulness.


“It is suggested here that there is a difference between knowing about emotions and knowing your own emotions as they are experienced. In addition to learning about emotions, there is a distinct advantage in learning how to notice what’s happening in the present moment. Attending to and identifying emotions can mitigate the emotional reaction and increase emotional balance and clarity.” –  Tina Barseghian


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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Study Summary

Franco C, Amutio A, López-González L, Oriol X and Martínez-Taboada C (2016) Effect of a Mindfulness Training Program on the Impulsivity and Aggression Levels of Adolescents with Behavioral Problems in the Classroom. Front. Psychol. 7:1385. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01385


Objective: The aim of the present study was to analyze the effects of a mindfulness training psycho-educative program on impulsivity and aggression levels in a sample of high school students.

Methods: A randomized controlled trial with pre-test–post-test measurements was applied to an experimental group and a control group (waiting list). The Barratt Impulsivity Scale (BIS-11) Patton et al. (1995) and the Aggression Questionnaire (Buss and Perry, 1992) were used.

Results: Statistical analyses showed a significant decrease in the levels of impulsivity and aggressiveness in the experimental group compared with the control group. These results have important implications for improving the level of academic engagement and self-efficacy of students and for reducing school failure.

Conclusion: This is one of the first studies showing the effectiveness of mindfulness training at reducing impulsive and aggressive behaviors in the classroom. The efficacy of mindfulness-based programs is emphasized.


Be Less Impulsive with Mindfulness

“The antithetical nature of mindfulness and automatic or impulsive behaviors provides theoretical promise for the efficacy of mindfulness skills in the treatment of impulse control disorders.” – Kelcey J. Stratton


Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a very serious mental illness that is estimated to affect 1.6% of the U.S. population. It involves unstable moods, behavior, and relationships, problems with regulating emotions and thoughts, impulsive and reckless behavior, and unstable relationships. In addition, 30 to 90 % of BPD cases are associated with high rates of early traumatic experiences including sexual, physical and emotional abuse. BPD is associated with high rates of co-occurring depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders, self-harm, suicidal behaviors, and completed suicides. Needless to say it is widespread and debilitating.


Many of these symptoms occur in other mental illnesses. Impulsivity, however, distinguishes BPD from other disorders. In addition, it is the reason that the disorder is dangerous to the individuals as it can propel them, on the spur of the moment, to overreact to anger, take drugs, harm themselves, and even terminate their lives. BPD has not responded well to a variety of therapies with the exception of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DPT). It is significant that a difference between DBT and other therapies is that it emphasizes mindfulness. This suggests that mindfulness training may be essential in treating Borderline Personality Disorder and impulsivity. Indeed, BPD sufferers who are high in mindfulness tend to be low in impulsivity. It would make sense, then, that the mindfulness training occurring in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DPT) may be an effective treatment for the dangerous symptom of impulsivity.


In today’s Research News article “Effects of mindfulness training on different components of impulsivity in borderline personality disorder: results from a pilot randomized study”

Soler and colleagues randomly assigned Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) patients to receive 10-weeks of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DPT) which was modified to include only Mindfulness Training (MT) or Interpersonal Effectiveness Training (IE). IE is designed to teach patients how to act more effectively in interpersonal interactions. They found that only the Mindfulness Training group showed a significant improvement in three self-reported aspects of impulsivity, motor impulsiveness (acting without forethought); attentional impulsiveness (the tendency to make quick, non-reflexive decisions), and non-planning impulsiveness (failure to prepare for future events). They also measured impulsivity with a series of laboratory tests designed to measure various aspects of impulsivity. They found that the Mindfulness Training group showed improvements in delaying gratification and in time perception.


These results are interesting. They suggest that the Mindfulness Training component of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DPT) may be effective in treating the impulsivity characteristic of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) by improving the patients’ ability to delay gratification. Improved time perception may be responsible for better ability to delay gratification. It is important to note that impulsivity usually involves an inability to wait to get what is wanted. So, improved ability to delay gratification would be antithetical to impulsiveness. This may be the underlying mechanism by which mindfulness reduces impulsivity.


As mentioned BPD is a difficult disorder to treat and potentially dangerous to the self and others. It appears that the distinctive feature of BPD, impulsivity, is improved by DBT and that it is the mindfulness training that is responsible. This is particularly important as impulsivity is primarily responsible for the dangerous behaviors of BPD sufferers. It also appears that the mindfulness training acts to reduce impulsivity by improving time perception and the ability to delay gratification.


Impulsivity produces actions reflexively without awareness. Mindfulness training by improving the individual’s awareness of the immediate situation would tend to counteract impulsive action. So, mindfulness training may be essential to DBT’s ability to reduce impulsiveness by making the individual more aware of what they are doing. One cannot be mindful and impulsive at the same time.


So, be less impulsive with mindfulness.


“Decreased impulsivity has significant and wide implications for those suffering from it. This includes less general psychiatric morbidity, improved substance use outcomes, and general improvement in decision making skills, affecting every area of a person’s life in meaningful ways.” – Gisli Kristofersson


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies