I have had the honor and privilege to be a youth mentor and teacher for hundreds of kids over the past 16 years. This valuable work exposed me to a wide range of youth from different backgrounds and settings. I discovered that ALL of these kids had something in common – low self-worth. I searched for a local group class for youth that was focused on building self-esteem. Much to my surprise there wasn’t anything like this available in our community. There weren’t any programs in mindfulness either. So I set about to create my own program based on many wonderful programs around the country.
As part of this research, I stumbled onto a wonderful and life-changing article written by Kristin Neff. It stated that the current self-esteem model could be replaced with a newly validated self-compassionate model (same benefits without the now well-known pitfalls of self-esteem). I emailed Dr . Neff and she referred me to Karen Bluth, who was doing research on a youth adaption of the Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) course for adults. Karen and Lorrain Hobbs did the groundwork that led to the course known as Making Friends With Yourself (MFY). This course hadn’t been released for implementation yet but I learned that MFY teachers would need to be trained teachers of MSC, which is the path I pursued.
There is always one recurring discussion during adult MSC classes. The older participants (60ish) always tell younger participants (30ish) how lucky they are to be getting this information early in their life, rather than later like them. These older participants say that they wished they had learned the practices and perspectives at an earlier age, because it would have reduced their lifetime of suffering considerably. And then the younger participants (30ish) say they can see the value of their teenagers learning the material.
So I started looking at the big picture regarding the formal education of our kids and the priorities of this education. What I found was almost unbelievable. If we assume that the human experience includes four main elements – mind, body, spirit, and emotions – then it stands to reason that emotions would be at least 25% of being human (it is probably higher than this). As such, it would make sense for at least 25% of our training and education to be focused on understanding emotions and how to successfully manage them. But the fact is that we don’t get ANY formal training about this important part of ourselves. We get 12-16 years of brain training, and about the same for body training; knowing our strengths and weaknesses of both these through practical applications. Along the way, there is no training on emotional resiliency or how our biology has set us up to struggle in current culture. What we got instead was informal training from parents and others who didn’t get any formal training either. They did the best they could, but “deal with it” or “go to your room until you stop crying” are not effective strategies in the long run. So there is this HUGE hole in our approach to education related to understanding the total human experience and how to successfully navigate life’s challenges.
In addition, it is always better to take action to stop a problem from occurring rather than letting it happen; and then working harder to resolve the problem. Recent national statistics indicate that 25% of adults have some type of substantial mental health issue. Doesn’t it make sense to reduce this number by providing emotional resiliency training to youth? The time and cost associated with adult mental health treatment is huge. The answer seems apparent when you compare upfront youth training (16 hours and a few hundred dollars) to adult mental health counseling and treatment. Given that 35% of absenteeism from work is due to mental health issues, there would also be a large economic benefit to society. And the personal benefit goes without saying.
The good news is that it doesn’t take years of formal training to get a grasp on our emotional state. The MFY course is 16 hours long and that is enough. Don’t take my word for it. Here are some comments from participants of the MFY coursed I taught. The RYS program mentioned below is a youth living facility that transitions teens between jail and the community.
What Participants Said:
- “I really appreciate this group and the time you devoted to teach at RYS. Your group taught me a lot. It taught me a lot about myself and I am really grateful I met you. I know teaching teens about self-compassion isn’t always fun, but I listened to you the entire time, even if I was tired. Thank you so much. I appreciate you and your joys.” Teen at Hilltop’s Residential Youth Services (RYS) Program, Grand Junction, CO
- “Thanks Skip, I will miss your groups so, so much. Keep in touch. Forever and always peace.” Teen at Hilltop’s Residential Youth Services (RYS) Program, Grand Junction, CO
- “Thanks Skip. You’ve helped me understand myself and overcome my fears. I really appreciate and care for you.” Teen at Hilltop’s Residential Youth Services (RYS) Program, Grand Junction, CO
- Note to myself from 8 weeks ago (before course). “Now you’ve just heard you’re going to the “Making Friends with Yourself” course. How do you feel? Happy right? Happy that there is a way to bring yourself out of yourself. As things went on you didn’t want to go to the class anymore, just because you are lazy. Trust me though it’s worth it! You will grow so much and come out of your shell so much. You have no idea. Plus you will make great memories with these people. And the teachers will be amazing!! They will be so supportive and caring. You wouldn’t have asked for anyone better to lead this course! You will make two amazing friends at school because of this class. You wouldn’t have been able to do that without these amazing leaders.” Follow up note to teachers. “Thank you so much, you guys are amazing!! Love this group and this class! This was amazing and extremely helpful. LOVE YOU GUYS!” N., Grand Junction CO (age 15)