There has been a growing interest in Eastern Religions and their practices since the movements that permeated American university campuses in the 1960’s and 1970’s. As people had children and time passed, religious goals of methods such as meditation and following Chi energies got lost and many viewed them as simply ‘self help’ techniques. Is this a cause for caution, especially where our children are concerned?
Meditation is not a proper tool to use in corrective or self discipline in children. Using it without the religious goal it was designed for is merely escapism that can lead to disastrous results. Having kids focus on the self and the immediacy of ‘the now’ is dangerous.
Though the fad in research done by mainly social scientists hailing from these same university environments is to support the use of meditation for discipline and focus in children, now that enough time has passed we see much research extolling the dangers of meditation as a whole.
Table of Contents
Most Meditation Practices Taught to Children Are Undeniably Buddhist
If you are Buddhist, you will probably agree with what I am about to present, if not my assessment. If you are not then you may be surprised. And if you don’t care one way or the other, then these may just be interesting ‘factoids’.
I believe that this information is highly relevant and very important for parents deciding to allow their children to be affected by Mindfulness Meditation or any of its guided forms. There is no greater responsibility we have than the protection and raising of our children.
In most meditation programs, including the popular Mindfulness system taught in public schools across the country, children are encouraged to focus solely on the present. They are taught and even led to be active and open as they observe thoughts and feelings within themselves as from a distance.
This is supposed to relieve anxiety, which is hoped to in turn bring about actions and attitudes that are acceptable when relating to others.
These actions are presented, yet many times not acknowledged to be, in standardized Buddhist forms of meditation. Three major forms are ‘Breathing Space Meditation’, ‘Body Scan Meditation’, and ‘Expanding Awareness Meditation’.
Breathing Space Meditation: Buddha’s Road To Full Enlightenment
Anapanasati is the name of this form of meditation as it is used by Tibetan, Zen, and other common forms of Buddhism. This breathing based meditation is also one of the most widely used forms in the religion.
The histories and stories passed down by the followers of Gautama Buddha have definite references to the use of this meditative form by Buddha as an essential component to his reaching transcendental enlightenment. Since this is a faith based claim, it brings the use of this method firmly into the realm of religion.
This state of enlightenment is loosely defined as ‘becoming one with the universe and dissolving into it’. You cease to be separate and become something other than yourself. This is again, a faith based claim.
Body Scan Meditation: Self Focus
Satipaṭṭhāna as some may classify ‘Body Scan Meditation’ is a hyper focus on the body and the self. This sometimes entails a complete survey of the body from an outside perspective, with simple observations. Many times feelings are then examined without regard to their causes or effects.
One of the major problems here is the disconnect of these feelings and any experiences with moral and safeguarding regulatory structures. Any feeling or opinion of one’s self or body is accepted. In the hands of a bullied, over aggressive, or depressive child this could give birth to disastrous consequences.
In some instances this can reinforce poor self image and in others propagate a lack of emphasis on humility. Even in adults, it causes problems of being judgmental, self-centeredness, and feelings of inadequacy. Now imagine an unprepared child dealing with those forces.
Expanding Awareness Meditation: Clearer Comprehension of ‘Reality’
Samprajaña is sometimes referred to as a meditation leading to “clearer compreshension.” The comprehension meant here is a faith based claim on reality and our place or contribution to it. The focus of this reality is the self as the ultimate point of existence.
This inward focus again leads to a drawing in upon the self. If actions toward others are expected to be ones of peace, this is actually a good starting point. Yet, if this is more than a brief beginning, trouble is soon to follow.
The focus as communal or community oriented beings should always be the other and something greater than self. If our expanded awareness does not include a perfection outside of ourselves and how that speaks to our treatment of the other, then we are on a direct path to self worship and groundless superiority.
If these claims seem a bit extreme, just read on. There are studies that say exactly this.
Other Religions Use Meditation, But With a Different Focus
What I have been talking about thus far is the Eastern Spiritual version of meditation primarily found the in the religious practices of Buddhism. These have also bled over into the Hindu meditative movement system known widely as Yoga. Though, that one deserves its own separate article.
What many don’t know is that meditation has been an integral part of Western religious practice as well. When you hear the word, you will immediately understand the connection.
There are many traditions that revolve around prayer, but many are forms of meditation. With this similarity noted to the Eastern version, there is one stark contrast that is immediately apparent.
Whereas eastern meditative practices of Buddhism are focused inward upon the self, prayer has always been focused outward. The focus usually is on a person or model of perfection that sets a set of boundaries on how one views the self.
In Jewish traditions, the Law was advocated as was it’s creator, God as a focus of perfection worthy of being meditated upon. This was seen as a form of contemplative prayer.
In the Catholic tradition, for over a thousand years, faithful have carried prayer beads called a Rosary. This is a series of meditative portions of the life of Jesus that are meditated upon as prayers are said. The focus again is on a perfection unattainable that serves as a goal and guidance for the self.
If you are now understanding the connection between the spiritual expression that is meditation and its counterpart in prayer, you can see how obviously many are attempting to cover up the religious nature of Mindfulness meditation for children.
Why are they trying to rename and evolve a directly Buddhist religious practices without telling parents of the foundations?
‘Mindfulness’ was the fad for years in public schools as they simultaneously rejected any form of prayer. The term has now morphed into ‘Growth Mindset.’ The practices are still Buddhist meditative methods. The name has been changed for faddish and seemingly dishonest reasons.
Could Extracting Meditation From It’s Religious Context Help Discipline and Focus?
One of the studies mentioned above trying to promote the spread of meditation into our public schools and institutions was done by John’s Hopkins University in 2014. What they unwittingly uncovered were the gross failings in concept, implementation, and favorable results where meditation was used for anxiety, depression, and good mental health.
They attempted to survey 18,753 mindfulness and meditation studies. They only found 47 that were acceptable and that showed results supporting their favorable view of meditative practices. Let’s put that into perspective. The 47 used were a minuscule 0.002% of the total number investigated.
They and others then repeatedly made claims of the exemplary advantage that meditation gives to patients suffering from depression and anxiety. Though, the statement included on the JohnsHopkinsMedicine.org website talking about the study says it all, “These patients did not typically have full-blown anxiety or depression.”
Even within those 47 studies, adverse effects were noted and “low evidence” of positive mental health benefits were found. Yet this study is cited over and over to propagate the wonderfully positive effects that meditation can have, even outside of its faith based Buddhist design.
So what do studies trying to find the impact of negative effects of meditation say about its long term costs on practitioners? The results may surprise you.
In a widely cited study done by Deane H. Shapiro, PhD. it was shown that 75% of participants practicing meditation for more than a few months time experienced adverse effects.
What are some of these adverse effects? This is the exact question I would ask. If the adverse effects were insignificant enough, maybe the supposed benefits could outweigh them. Here we have more bad news for proponents of meditation.
In his findings, Dr. Shapiro found the following negative effects in a majority of his subjects.
- Increased negativity
- Increased judgmental attitudes
- Increased fear
- Increased anxiety
- Increased confusion of purpose
- Decreased self esteem
- Decreased motivation
- Meditation as an alternative to relationships
- Meditation as an alternative to difficult situations
- False superiority
- Discomfort around current friend groups
In an effort towards providing full disclosure, Dr. Shapiro’s full study in pdf format can be found here.
Just keep in mind, these are not going to show up in the beginning. It took several months of consistent meditation for these to become apparent.
Also, where children are concerned, I have reservations in thinking they are actually meditating in the proper sense when left on their own to guide themselves.
If this were the case with most children, I would say that maybe the risks are less. This is where ‘Guided Meditation’ or ‘Guided Mindfulness’ rears its head.
To insure that turning inward on the self is actually accomplished audio and video guides have been produced by the tens of thousands.
To make sure that isolating the present without the actions and consequences of the past is truly grasped, there are ample voices ready to be pumped into your child’s ears telling them to escape.
None of us would advocate disconnecting from reality and escapism for our children either as a way to improve self image or as discipline measures. Yet, this is just what is happening in our public schools and pushed in mainstream parenting circles.
Though my view is backed by academic studies, experience with thousands of children and families, and simple common sense based on a millennia of how children have been successfully raised, there will be those that choose to follow fads. For discerning parents, the stakes should be too high. These are our kids.
I will stand up and say, no. I will be the bad guy if necessary. With Dr. Shapiro I conclude, the long term effects of disassociating a religious practice from its faith and ignoring the deity it points to is a really bad idea. These practices were not designed for what they are claiming.
What Ever Happened to “Sit There and Think About What You Did”?
Some may say here, “Wait, discipline refers to something like fortitude or tenacity. You are talking about corrective discipline.”
Discipline has both meanings. The virtue of self-discipline has many ways to be approached. Some use meditation for this, and it is also unfit for that use. I will address that further down.
But there is a much more serious use of meditation.
In our public schools and from the advice of so-called parenting experts, meditation is being advised for corrective discipline. This is a grave mistake that I think needs to be addressed.
‘Time Out’ has been around since time has existed. Separation from the group was part of most native cultures in most every land. This time is meant as a denial of the communal connection to the group and for time to reconsider ones place in that group.
It is a time for contemplation on how one’s actions can negatively affect others and even the group as a whole. This is not a time for total introspection and escaping the results and consequences of past actions.
This is a time for facing head on the actions of the past and the possibilities ahead.
The focus on the isolated self doesn’t hold a candle to the power of considering the other before the self. This is the key to behavior control in children and adults as a part of a family or community.
Consider the other.
As will be attested by many teachers subjected to the infiltration of Buddhist meditation in the public schools, this self focused meditation is a poor substitute for separation and directed contemplation of actions, consequences, and the effects it all has on others.
We are plagued with child centered philosophies that only frustrate children looking for role models in their parents and boundaries so they know how to be. Now, we are told to further isolate our children by trapping them in their own minds and helping them escape the real world.
Stresses, failures, and adversity are the ingredients to making a champion in life or competition. Directing children to turn to peaceful escapes and introspective, self centered, and undirected analysis is bordering on cruel.
They want your correction to know you care. They are watching what you do. Show them, don’t send them away.
They are crying out for boundaries and will push until you push back. Don’t turn them away and tell them to escape to underwater worlds of imagination and infinite possibilities without consequences.
Consequences, whether they know it or not show them someone gives a damn.
What Is A Better Alternative To Buddhist Meditation?
There is one simple word. I have stated it above, but it is the key to behavior, self image, and respect for others in children.
Every single action, and I mean every single one has to come with some sort of consequence. We as children or adults do nothing without payment. This payment comes in the form of positive and negative consequences.
First, let me briefly touch on the positive consequences. These are simple to define. It is inclusion in the family, group, or community. The benefits of this are love, friendship, and having needs and wants met.
This is where you give them the things that will be taken away in the form of negative consequences. The things that make people comfortable and happy are all privileges of being a part of the family or group.
Once a transgression of acceptable behavior occurs, there must be a consequence. Here I am not talking about a ‘good talking to’. For children this means one thing.
“Stop talking. Stop talking. Finally, you stopped talking. I got away with that one.”
This means loosing privileges, things, and associations. These are the possessions of those members of the community in good standing. When something like disrespect, theft, or violence occurs, they are no longer in good standing.
Consequences of separation, loss of things, or abilities must follow. This is usually coupled with reminding the offender of their place and how their actions affected others in the group.
There is time for reflection by the offending member during the separation. Once adequate time has passed, the transgressor is afforded the chance to make amends and repent (prove by actions they are doing the opposite of the offense).
The words transgressor and offender may seem odd used in relation to children, but this is a universal way of community or familial discipline that has been the staple of human interpersonal relations from time immortal.
These words relate how we deal with children to how we as a society in all its forms deal with its loved ones and members.
The point here is, just because consequences is seen as a ‘dirty’ word in faddish parenting circles, doesn’t mean it is not the best way to deal with deviance. Many are looking for a lack of consequences for themselves and to be consistent, they advocate for it in all levels of society.
Some of these same people will call for no police forces, letting convicted murderers out of prisons, and lifting all restrictions on children in all areas. You want to see a perfect recipe for the rise of feudal warlords and anarchy? That is it right there.
So, What About The Virtue Of Self-Discipline?
With all of the risks associated with meditation done over any extended period of time, which is primarily the time frame associated with self-discipline, it is not a good fit at all. Discipline is a virtue that can be developed by understanding the purpose of life and the goal desired.
Truly understanding what it takes to reach a goal is fundamental. A builder counts the costs before building and a military leader counts the costs before entering a battle. This is how self-discipline starts.
Realistic expectations, actionable goals just out of reach, and a developed will that understands there will be falls, but also knows without them there will be no growth, these are the ingredients of a self-disciplined life.
“Wow, but how in the world will a child understand any of this?”
They won’t. They are watching you. You are their ultimate teacher. They will do what you do and how you do it most of the time.
The sad reality is, some parents don’t display the qualities that they want to see in their kids. The result is a child striving to ‘not be mom’ or ‘not be like dad’. They are watching, and they see the results.
As they grow they start forming their own opinions. They begin to reevaluate past actions in their families stored in their memories. Once old enough, they will begin to either mimic or reject what you have shown them.
If you want a self-disciplined child, begin teaching them about picking yourself up after a fall and heading right back into the fray. This is done with words of course. But they are only half listening to what you say. They are watching what you do.
If you want your child to be uncompromising in their morals, ideals, or religious faith, you must be. They are watching, even when you think they aren’t. You are their rock or their quicksand. They can feel it.
Tell them, yes. They must be told. But showing them… that is everything. Tell them to set realistic goals and have baby steps in their action plans. Then do it yourself and let them see it.
What we shouldn’t do is subject our children to escapism and peaceful getaways to avoid the hard lessons life is ready to hit them with.
Meditation teaches them to escape. It makes it harder to stand up and say, “No! I will not go quietly into the night!”
Getting knocked down again and again only to stand back up and head back in does that. Self-discipline is a mindset learned from role models and wiping the blood from our lips. Be that role model and they will shine.
The Meditation For Kids Takeaway…
Meditation is primarily a religious practice. There is no denying it. From the Eastern religious tradition it is a turn inward and focus on the self as the supreme object of existence. The Western religious form comes to us in the practice of prayer. This has an opposite focus, the other.
As we saw, attempting to use meditation without its religious context holds little value and brings with it a slew of negative effects. The list of these negative outcomes is surprisingly long and even serious.
Is meditation a good alternative to traditional methods of discipline and interpersonal relationship training for kids? Definitely not.
It is simply not designed for this and only leads to symptoms such as are associated with the same anti-social actions parents are trying to control. As a religious practice in a faith based environment, it is in its element. You just need to share the same faith in the same object of perfection.
To control behavior in children, just show them that you care enough to set boundaries and stubborn enough to enforce them, every time. Show them you are fine with being the bad guy, when the bad guy will save them from themselves.
Meditation is also not the answer to building the virtue of self-discipline. Good parental role models (not steroid soaked, compromised professional athletes) and encouragement when they fail is the secret sauce in developing virtues. Escaping to safe spaces only makes them fearful and weakens their resolve.