The Huffington Post has named non-profit Mindfulness First an "incredible cause that will shape the next 10 years" as part of a campaign to draw attention to and raise funds for pioneering charities. Mindfulness First teach clinically created practices to children, parents, teachers and staff creating entirely 'mindful schools.' These practices nurture life-skills that help everybody cope with conflict and adversity while facilitating happiness.
What is life like for kids today?
Here's some statistics about life in schools today. Bullying is found in every grade, in every school nationwide and 1 in 4 students report being bullied (1). Such students experience higher incidences of anxiety, depression, physical health problems and social adjustment problems that can persist to adulthood (2). Not to mention the studnets who engage in bullying; they are at increased risk for poor school adjustment and delinquency, and at an increased risk of criminal behavior and social maladjustment in adulthood (3). And the subject nobody talks about is suicide, which is the 3rd leading cause of death for kids age 11-15 (4).
And beside research, there's the stuff we just all know and experience. There have been 95 school shootings since Sandy Hook (2012) -- ninety-five. It's no secret that the misuse of drugs, alcohol and sex is prevalent in the lives of teenagers. And addiction doesn't only come in these traditional forms anymore; don't we all have a child glued to some kind of screen?
So what's going on here and where does mindfulness step in?
As human beings, if we don't take the time to understand the inner workings of our bodies (thoughts, emotions, perceptions, senses, physical and mental impulses) then our body simply doesn't feel good. "The human brain can be called an 'anticipation machine.' It learns from the past to anticipate the future. Past experiences become perceptual filters that shape how you actually see or hear or understand what's going on in the present moment," says Professor Dan Siegel, MD (Co-director of the UCLS Mindful Awareness Research Center) (5). It's the anticipation that's the problem -- the rumination, the worries and the fears; the need to defend and protect ourselves against possible dangers. Otherwise known as stress.
The magic of mindfulness is that we learn to observe these biological occurrences as they happen, and in doing so we become incredibly familiar with them. Feelings that at one time were overwhelming are transformed into signals of information that notify us of what we are experiencing. This doesn't mean we're apathetic, but rather we become fully present with what is happening and the driver of our own biology. Mindfulness teaches us to use our inner world to navigate life, as opposed to feeling out of control and at the mercy of our overwhelming feelings, thoughts, emotions or impulses.
Every time I describe mindfulness I think about how completely obvious it is that such skills should be our first port of call as parents, teachers and stewards of the next generation. A child or teenager that is taking drugs or drinking alcohol, or bullying another child, is simply trying to change the way their body feels using an exterior (albeit destructive) method. The distraction from what's really going on inside of them is short-lived. Mindfulness provides long-term life-skills and tools that reveal to a child how they really feel, why they feel it and how to manage it in a way that speaks to their innate human desire for community and togetherness; and so they begin to behave responsively and with compassion.
We are all human beings and so by default we all share the same capacity to take charge of our own biology. We are so grateful to the Huffington Post for recognizing our initiative for change in education. We welcome your support -- please visit our Huffington Post/Crowdrise "Next 10" campaign page and through your donation, you can be a part of transforming the next generation.
(1) American Educational Research Association. (2013). Prevention of bullying in schools, colleges, and universities: Research report and recommendations. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.
(2) Carlisle & Rofes, 2007; Espelage, Low, & De La Rue, 2012; Gini & Pozzoli, 2009; Ttofi, Farrington, Lösel, & Loeber, 2011
(3) Bender & Lösel, 2011; Farrington & Ttofi, 2011.
(5) Mindful Magazine, August Publication 2015