Welcome to Wander, an online destination created by the Prevention Unit in the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (BSAS) at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The site’s goal is to equip youth in early adolescence with stress reduction tools. It offers a self-guided, engaging and motivating game that youth can use by themselves — or with support from trusted adults — to help them build an internal toolbox of self-regulation, mindfulness, and coping skills.
Research shows that middle school represents a pivotal time in youth’s lives. During this time, youth face new pressures and are eager to fit in with peers. Many youth this age may also be challenged with decisions about nicotine, alcohol, or other drugs for the first time. Research shows that early-in-life substance use may make someone more likely to struggle with substance misuse in the future, so the decisions youth make in their middle school years can have a huge impact on their health later in life.
Interventions that include stress reduction and mindfulness skills can create a foundation for better mental health and healthy decision-making, including decisions around substance use. Evidence also shows that youth who participate in mindfulness programs experience more positive health outcomes.
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What is mindfulness?
The practice of mindfulness is simply using techniques that bring our attention to the present moment in a nonjudgmental way. Athletes, musicians, and others often call it “flow.” Learning to be more mindful can reduce the “fight or flight” stress response to everyday challenges and help us respond to those stressors with greater patience. For youth, whose brains are developing rapidly, mindfulness programs and practices can help them self-regulate in response to stress, as well as enhance their focus, curiosity, self-confidence, and creativity.
How to use this resource
Wander’s activities aim to be encouraging, accessible, engaging, and motivational for youth ages 11-13. The Wander “world” features a game that allows youth to explore multiple “subworlds,” each an immersive experience with activities focused on a particular aspect of mindfulness.
Subworld 1: Sea of Serenity – Relaxation and Breathing
Provides “in-the-moment” tools and activities to help calm the nervous system and reduce stress. These include guided breathing techniques and simple meditation practices.
Helps youth identify their values, which can create a feeling of authenticity and self-awareness. It can also help them identify traits they would like to develop. These activities center on reframing exercises and affirmations.
Subworld 3: Inspiration Island – Creative Output
Encourages self-expression through creativity. Its activities guide youth in creating art and using visualization techniques.
Subworld 4: Zen Woods – Meditation
Teaches youth to heighten their awareness by focusing on their senses. Activities such as nature walks and body scans help youth notice where stress shows up in the body and connect to their physical feelings in the moment.
Tips for Trusted Adults
Here’s how you can help youth get the most out of the Wander resource:
Validate. When youth this age try a coping skill for the first time, they often think it didn’t work or it didn’t change anything for them. You can reinforce the language built into Wander to help encourage youth to keep practicing, even if they feel like the coping skills aren’t working right away.
Repeat. Repetition of concepts reinforces learning for youth at this age. You can encourage being nonjudgmental of emotions and refocusing attention when their mind wanders. Then, youth can revisit the activities again.
Practice. You can model techniques included in the game, such as box breathing, meditation, and nature walking, anytime.
Talk. Whether you are supporting engagement in Wander or youth are doing it on their own, you can use opportunities like a car ride, dinner, or a few moments before bed to discuss what they learned. You might ask about the real-life ways in which they can put what they are learning to use, for example, when they are feeling stressed, angry, sad, lonely, or are facing a tough decision. Others might just use the tools regularly to maintain their health.
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The Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (BSAS), part of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, oversees and maintains the statewide system of prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery support services for the Commonwealth.
The BSAS Prevention Unit works to empower communities using a public health approach to promote and support healthy decisions around substance use among youth. To do this, we provide funding and programming support to municipalities and community organizations across the Commonwealth. We view substance use prevention like a house that our entire community is working to construct, building a strong and lasting foundation of lifelong health and well-being. To fortify this foundation, we use the tools and practices of prevention science, anticipating and counteracting potential risks and building as well as reinforcing effective protections.