Factors Influencing Adolescents' Decision to Meditate

Meditation can help adolescents reduce stress and self-regulate (thoughts, emotions, behaviors), but they may need help creating the time and space to practice this behavior.

Self-regulation (e.g. self-soothing after a setback or remaining calm during a stressful situation) is an important ability for adolescents' health and well-being and has been referred to as the key task of the adolescent developmental period.  The adolescent stage of life is an important time to learn self-regulation strategies because of the numerous internal (puberty, brain development) and external changes (social, vocational, technological) happening at the same time.  In fact, it may be argued that because of the number of changes a young person experiences during the adolescent time-period, especially in contemporary times, adolescence is the critical time in life to learn and adopt self-regulation strategies.

Several social and neuroscientific studies point to meditation as important self-regulation enhancing practice for adolescents.  Meditation, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, typically involves four main components: 1. A quiet location, 2. A comfortable posture, 3. A focus of attention (a word, a phrase, the breath, an image), 4. And an open or non-judgmental attitude.  Although meditation has shown several health benefits through research, only 5.4% of youth ages 4-17 use any type of meditation in the United States in 2017, up from 0.6% in 2012 according to the 2017 National Health Interview Survey

Recent research has started to investigate the factors that influence adolescents' decision to meditate. The goal of this body of research is to help identify the key factors to focus on to encourage youth to adopt the behavior of meditation.  These early studies have used the Reasoned Action Approach (RAA) or the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB), related behavior theories, as a theoretical framework for exploring these factors.  These theories suggest that a person’s intention to engage a behavior is the best predictor of their actual engagement.  Intention, in turn, is influenced by three main factors:  Their attitude toward the behavior (will this behavior help me?), their perceived norm regarding behavior (do other people like me use the behavior?), and their perceived behavioral control or self-efficacy (am I able to actually carry-out the behavior?).

Findings from the early studies using RAA or TPB theoretical approaches reveal important factors to focus on when helping adolescents become meditation practitioners:

  1. Attitudes: This is likely the most important factor to focus on.  Adolescents tend to see meditation as having important advantages such as reducing stress and helping them calm down but the disadvantage they see is that it takes time (which of course, it does).
  2. Perceived Norm:  This is likely the second most important factor to focus on.  Adolescents see meditation as socially acceptable, specifically, important people in their life would approve of them meditating.  Because their peer groups are becoming more influential, they may need help viewing meditation as something people their age and like them would do.
  3. Perceived Behavioral Control/Self-Efficacy:  This is likely the third most important factor to focus on.  Helping adolescents create the time and a conducive environment for meditation can improve their perceived behavioral control.

In sum, meditation is an important behavior that can help adolescents increase their self-regulation capabilities.  Because so few young people practice meditation, it’s important to know the factors that would help them acquire the behavior.  Our research shows that helping them have a positive attitude toward meditation, improving their perceived norms related to meditation, and enhancing their meditation self-efficacy can help them practice the behavior.  Specifically, helping them see that meditation has advantages such as helping them calm down and reducing stress and also being socially acceptable, and helping them create the time and space to practice meditation can go a long way in promoting their engagement with meditation.  During this phase of quarantining and social-distancing may be just the time to do it and the need never greater.

Read one of the related research studies here.


  • Beattie, M. M., Konttinen, H. M., Volanen, S.-M., Knittle, K. P., & Hankonen, N. E. (2020). Social cognitions and mental health as predictors of adolescents' mindfulness practice. Mindfulness. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01331-8
  • Black, L. I., Barnes, P. M., Clarke, T. C., Stussman, B. J., & Nahin, R. L. (2018). Use of yoga, meditation, and chiropractors among U.S. children aged 4-17 years. National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief(34), 1-7.
  • Black, L. I., Clark, T. C., Barnes, P. M., Stussman, B. J., & Nahin, R. L. (2015). Use of complementary health approaches among children aged 4-17 years in the United States: National Health Interview Survey, 2007-2012. National health statistics reports, 78, 1-18.
  • Erbe, R. G., Beckmeyer, J. J., Lohrmann, D. K., Middlestadt, S. E., & Sherwood-Laughlin, C. (2018a). Examining adolescents' intention to meditate: A reasoned action approach. Paper presented at the Society for Research on Adolescence, Minneapolis, MN.
  • Erbe, R. G., Middlestadt, S. E., Lohrmann, D. K., & Beckmeyer, J. J. (2018b). A salient belief elicitation examining adolescents' beliefs about meditation using the Reasoned Action Approach. Health Promotion Practice, 1-21. doi:https://doi.org/10.1177/1524839918811803
  • Erbe, R. G., Beckmeyer, J. J., Lohrmann, D. K., & Middlestadt, S. E. (2019). Examining determinants of adolescents' intention to meditate. American Journal of Health Studies, 34(1), 1-18.
  • Metz, S. M., Frank, J. L., Reibel, D., Cantrell, T., Sanders, R., & Broderick, P. C. (2013). The effectiveness of the Learning to BREATHE program on adolescent emotion regulation. Research in Human Development, 10(3), 252-272. doi:10.1080/15427609.2013.818488
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  • Steinberg, L. (2014). Age of Opportunity. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  • Tang, Y.-Y., Ma, Y., Fan, Y., Feng, S., Lu, Q., Yu, Q., . . . Posner, M. I. (2007). Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104(43), 17152-17156.
  • Tang, Y.-Y., Lu, Q., Geng, X., Stein, E. A., Yang, Y., & Posner, M. I. (2010). Short-term meditation induces white matter changes in the anterior cingulate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(35), 15649-15652.
  • Xue, S., Tang, Y.-Y., & Posner, M. I. (2011). Short-term meditation increases network efficiency of the anterior cingulate cortex. NeuroReport, 22, 570-574. doi:10.1097/WNR.0b013e328348c750

Ryan G. Erbe, PhD is the Lead Minister of the Hudson Valley Church located just outside of New York City.  He is also an Adjunct Professor of Health Psychology at the State University of New York at New Paltz and a Professor of Christian Adolescent Counseling with the Rocky Mountain School of Ministry and Theology.  He received his PhD in Health Behavior and Human Development from Indiana University.  His research interests include the determinants of meditation practice for adolescents and adolescent spirituality, mental and emotional health.  He currently resides outside of New York City with his wife Katie and daughters Evelyn (5), Vivian (3), and Lilian (2).

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