Adam Avin was moved to act when he saw his friends were in pain. In this interview, now-16-year-old Adam Avin discusses innovative ways to share mindfulness with other children and teens. He is sowing seeds of a happier, more peaceful future.
Your TED Talk mentions that your grandfather taught you a positive and conservative approach to living. Did he introduce you to mindfulness, or did that word come later?
Adam Avin: No, Avin did not use mindfulness but had a yogi’s heart. He was a yogi with positive mantras like “Smile, and the whole world will smile along with you” and “Smile to say thank you.” I had these messages in my mind from an early age. Erika was also essential to my mom’s life for many years. She did yoga and meditation sessions with my mother when I was a child. I used to pop in when I was at home for some reason.
Smile and thank the world for it.
It wasn’t until later that I understood the meaning of mindfulness. It was implied, not said, by my grandpa. Even today, I still don’t meditate every day. But my practice is breathing, learning, coping, and coming to my feelings the right way. I’m a player–I will put on some headphones and let’s listen to some music while playing golf. This is my way of relaxing for the day. We all practice mindfulness differently, but I’ve had these ideas since childhood.
A Chance to Do More
M Often, we see mindfulness as something you do on your own and not necessarily with others. What motivated you to share mindfulness with children and teens?
A: As I grew up, so did our organization. As I entered high school, I noticed how many of my friends, or people, were overwhelmed with homework, extracurriculars, and social life. I also saw stress and anxiety in myself.
We created the Mindful Kids Peace Summit at that time. It’s an online video library for teens where we interview over 80 experts. Some give presentations or demonstrations, but it’s more interviews. We discuss topics such as diversity, inclusion, and kindness. We also talk about mindfulness and how it can manage stress. As I grew older, we took advantage of the opportunity to expand and said, “Hey, I see this every day; we need a curriculum for others.”
We live close to Parkland, where the shooting occurred at Marjory-Stoneman Douglas. This brought the community together.
It used to be Yoga or meditation. Now, we say mindfulness, which includes Yoga and meditation. It’s also emotional-social learning and empathy. We want teens to be less anxious and depressed and to live healthier lives. That’s why I became interested in mindfulness.
M: That’s powerful. Have you taught mindfulness to children before?
A: Yeah. We created the Wuf Shanti Children’s Wellness Foundation when I was nine. It is now a non-profit organization. We teach social-emotional and mindfulness learning. They use Wuf, a dog character that kids love. We guide them through games, music, and videos in a way they don’t realize they are learning. We need to follow the exact definition.
What is Social Emotional Learning (SEL)?
M Could you give me a few examples of how to explain social-emotional development to younger children?
A: No definitions for younger kids. We play games that promote self-awareness, such as Feeling Charades, or games of gratitude, like the Happy Ball. We use affirmations such as “Think Well, Be Well,” “Peace starts with me,” or a laughter game that puts this into practice. Kidding Around Yoga is a video and music that we use. I am also certified in this. We made a video of “Every little cellular in my body is Happy” and the character dog. The kids love to dance and play games. The kids don’t know all the meanings of the words but are starting to learn them from an early age.
It’s more severe for older children. It’s interactive, and there is more detail. We use the definitions, meanings, and descriptions for every topic we cover. Many students who watch [the Mindful Kids Peace Summit video] are teenagers. They enjoy the fact that I am the one who is interacting with them. I am the only one interacting with the children. The kids are learning from their peers. We do the [ stressed teens’] self-care exercise with water bottles. Kids put stickers on their bottles and write down things that make them feel happy or things they like. We encourage kids to focus on things that bring them joy, positive things, and things they can return to judge better. You would go to the gym or brush your teeth if you were concerned about oral health, just as you might for physical fitness. You return to your water bottle to maintain your mental health and everything that brings you happiness.
Bring mindfulness to schools.
M: What are your thoughts on the best ways to increase mindfulness in our schools?
First, educate educators. It’s time to enter the schools. If the teachers are as stressed or more stressed than the students, it won’t help the children feel better.
We must also get it in schools because if it’s part of a child’s everyday life, they can carry the tools and use them outside school. When we say “yoga” and “meditation,” I think many teachers and schools don’t believe these tools are secular. But these tools are material and, therefore, for everyone. This is not about crossing your legs, closing your eyes, and pointing fingers like this. Mindfulness means being in the moment and not worrying about the past or the future.
It can beneficial to students, too. can improve your academics and athletic performance. It can help with specific problems like ADHD, asthma, and eczema. I don’t say that you should be happy all the time, because that is impossible. It would help if you dealt with everything that comes your way. The best part about mindfulness is the ability to be in the moment, be positive, and be happier.
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M, you have already talked about it a bit. But I’d like to add something about the differences you’ve noticed between promoting mindfulness among kids and teenagers.
A: Yes, it’s the same thing, but just said differently. The videos and music are fun for younger children, but it is a severe subject without the dog character for older kids. It depends on what the child wants to learn, their school, and the type of game.
The Mindful Kids Peace Summit is open to anyone aged 11-18 or older if you want. What a 13-year-old might be interested in differs from what a 17-year-old might be interested in or even what they wish to learn. We divided the Summit curriculum into six, seven, eight, and so on to provide different learning opportunities for all.
M: I can see from your words that you care about helping other people of the same age. How has this helped?
It significantly impacts my daily life and how I handle things. The most significant impact it has had on me is the ability to speak up. I have always wanted to do this, but now that I am a teenager, I can see how children act and speak up to adults about why, how, and what they should include [mindfulness] in their curriculums. I talk to teachers, guidance counselors, and directors. It’s so important, and I want to make a difference. I also want to speak up and help others.
I see how children act, and now, I stand in front of adults to tell them how, what, and why they should integrate [mindfulness] into the curriculum. Talk to guidance counselors, teachers, directors, principals, and directors. It’s so important, and I want to make a difference. I also want to speak up and help others.
Develop Your Mindfulness Practice
M: Many young people today are concerned about the state of their world. They may wonder what they can do, but only some can start a group to accomplish this. What ideas can young people use to start sharing a mindful life approach with their friends and communities?
A: The first thing you have to do is start practicing. It took me some time to get into the habit of practicing daily or understanding why it is so crucial for someone’s everyday life.
I tell people that we have more than 50,000 random thoughts every day. It’s amazing how many random thoughts we have every day. The most important part of mindfulness is the ability to look at these thoughts without judgment and release them. It helps you respond rather than react. Science has proven that if you do these five-minute exercises every day, they can improve your life. You don’t even have to tell anyone you are doing it.
As I have said, I enjoy listening to music. Golf is my favorite sport. This is my daily peace; this is my mindfulness practice. It’s essential to take time for yourself and reflect, to notice and let go of those random thoughts. We tell people that one of our practices is to listen to music, find one of their favorite songs, try to notice one part, such as the drumbeat, and try to notice the drumbeat.