4 Ways a Growth Mindset Can Help Improve Teen Health

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As adults, we know that our mindset influences our behavior, which in turn affects our health. Thus, shifting the way we think about our struggles can make a major difference in how we feel.

The ability to view a setback as an opportunity for learning and growth—not as a permanent flaw—is what’s known as a growth mindset. Teaching kids to understand this concept from a young age can help them improve their well being now and for the rest of their lives.

Here are four ways a growth mindset can help teens reframe and conquer their biggest challenges:

1. Coping with stress

Stress has become such a health concern among teenagers that middle and high schools now address it as a major component of health class.

One of the most effective ways to teach students to cope with their stress is to reframe it as something positive. That feeling you get when you’re under pressure and focused on your passion—whether that’s working on the school play, prepping for a big game, or up against a deadline to get the yearbook to print on time—that’s stress, and it helps us achieve our goals. 

What you can do: To bring teen stress management into your classroom, try this three-day lesson plan designed to help kids identify their own healthy coping skills.

2. Recovering from injury

With athletic pressure at an all time high, student athletes are often afraid of taking any time off for fear of missing out on scholarship opportunities. This pressure to perform can leave teens feeling lost after an injury, making recovery even more difficult. This leaves them susceptible to depression and misuse of pain medication as they attempt to speed up their return to the game.

We need to teach kids to view recovery as a goal, and to find healthy ways to deal with the uncomfortable feelings of missing out and weaning off of prescription drugs—especially since victims of opiate abuse are often former athletes who got hooked on prescription painkillers after being treated for an injury.

What you can do: After having students read this Choices article about good teens turned opioid addicts, end class on a positive note by showing them one of these inspiring TED Talks : 7 Powerful Stories of Recovery After Injury.

3. Getting more exercise

In a Time Magazine article on mindset and weight loss, the following line struck a chord with me.

“Exercise, like eating, shouldn’t feel like a chore. For it to truly work over the long term, it has to feel more like recess and less like detention.”

If we can make physical activity fun for all students by giving them the opportunity to choose activities they enjoy, we can help them get rid of whatever negative feelings they have about exercise and instill a life-long passion for movement that goes far beyond PE class.

What you can do: Have students identify different physical activities they enjoy and see if there’s a way to offer them at your school.

For further inspiration, check out how this Colorado high school modeled its PE program after a fitness club, offering a variety of activities like Zumba, ball sports, lifting, yoga, and indoor cycling that students can choose from each class.

4. Dealing with rejection

The last thing anyone—especially a teenager—wants to hear when they’ve just gotten their heart broken is, “It’s really for the best.” So instead of just saying the words, give them some concrete examples.

I like to reframe the break-up discussion by talking about the “montage moment” that we so often see in romantic films. After the requisite session of self-pity, our hero usually experiences a series of life changing moments in the form of a montage. They get a new job, new friends, a new hobby, and a new lease on life.

In other words, cue up the Beyoncé power music, and get your butt in gear.

What you can do: Don’t forget to add break-up education to your unit on healthy relationships. Check out the “Break-Up Summit” that’s happening in Boston schools, and have students brainstorm a list of 101 Healthy Ways to Handle a Break-up. (They can look to this Choices story for some ideas.)  

Looking to incorporate a growth mindset in your class? Check out Positive Prevention: A New Approach to Health Ed.