Mindfulness isn’t preparing children for the real world, headmaster warns

The Sunday Telegraph, 07.12.15, independent schools have rushed to embrace the meditation technique, but HMC member David Lambon, headmaster of leading independent Ampleforth College says it isn't the only answer to help children cope with the challenges of life

Mindfulness – a mediation technique that teaches people to focus on the present moment - is not preparing children to cope with the pressures of the real world, the headmaster of Ampleforth College has said.

David Lambon, who is the first lay headmaster at one of the UK’s top fee-paying Roman Catholic schools, said that instead schools should equip pupils with values that will guide them through the vicissitudes of life.

Private schools have rushed to embrace mindfulness as a way to help pupils cope with the growing pressures of academia: from getting top grades to being bullied. There is evidence the practice boosts the brain and it helps teenagers embrace self-control and resist peer pressure.

However, in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Lambon said: “Mindfulness has its place and young people do have a lot of stress these days. They need to be very resilient.

“But we need to give our children a framework, a compass for life, something they have with them their entire life with helps them not to cope only with the pressures of being a teenager but that gives them a faith that will deeply rooted and will last them through their entire lives.

Mindfulness “It doesn’t really ask them to find their true personality or to have core values that will guide them through all the problems they will face in their lifetime. They might face a separation, disappointment in their working lives and they need something that they can go back to.

“We need to give children not just coping strategies but values that they can rely on no matter what life throws at them. We need to give them something that forms their character as opposed to how they cope with the situation.

“Gospel values will be with you for every situation in life whereas mindfulness is only when you have a difficulty as a teenager. Life isn’t just about being a teenager.

He said that taking children to see more disadvantage areas of their community or doing volunteer is a more effective way to teach them to cope with stress because it helps them change perspective rather than being caught up in their anxiety.

He said: “Sometimes areas where children engage in service in the community and working with people who are less fortunate that they are themselves gives them a slightly different perspective.

“Sometimes it is only a matter of putting children in a slightly different context and then they can see that maybe their own situation is not as bad as they thought it was. This helps them engage in dialogue and conversation with people as well. This way they can develop more empathy with others as well.

“I am not sure mindfulness is the only answer. There are alternatives.”

Mr Lambon isn't the first one to spot a flaw in mindfulness. Theodore Zeldin, an Oxford University academic, has said too many people were avoiding using their brains and instead escaping into a state of blank mental oblivion.

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