Episode summary:

Susan talks with Jessica Morey, founder of Inward Bound Mindfulness Educator), about the impact on teens of mindfulness retreats. You’ll hear insights into what’s going on in the teen brain and how mindfulness and contemplative practice can radically improve focus, resilience, and a positive sense of self.

Jessica Morey, MA is a lead teacher and supports program strategy for iBme. She began practicing meditation at age 14 on teen retreats offered by the Insight Meditation Society. She returned every year for 6 years and then participated for 10 years in an IMS young adult mentoring group. Jessica has attended longer retreats in Asia and the U.S., and is a founding board member and lead teacher for iBme teen retreats. Before joining iBme, Jessica worked in clean energy and climate policy and finance. She holds a BA in Environmental Engineering from Dartmouth and Masters degrees in Sustainable Development and International Affairs. Her published works range from the chapter ‘Ordinary Awakening’ in Blue Jean Buddha to Conflict Resolution of the Boruca Hydro-Energy Project: Renewable Energy Production in Costa Rica. She is an avid yoga practitioner and skier and loves dancing in any form. https://ibme.com and https://jessicamorey.org

Things you’ll learn from this episode:


  • The surprising results of teaching self-compassion to teens
  • Why contemplative practice is particularly powerful for teens
  • What happens when teens on retreat unplug from technology

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Speaker 1: (00:07)

Hello and welcome back to another episode of the Parenting Without Power Struggles. I’m your host Susan Stiffelman. I’m a marriage and family therapist and the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles and Parenting with Presence. And I’m very glad you’re here. Welcome. Today I’m going to be talking with Jessica Morey about teens. Jessica founded IBme, which you’ll hear about in a minute. Inward Bound Mindfulness Education, which hosts mindfulness retreats for teens all over the country. And believe me, she knows teens, so you won’t want to miss episode, but first a word from our sponsor, which happens to be me. This podcast is, it’s one of the ways that I offer support to parents, but there are a lot of other options available that I’d like to tell you about. You can visit Susanstiffelman.com and get a free newsletter, which you’ll also find a free love flooding video, which is a very simple, short video describing a powerful way to immediately establish more connection with your children. 


Speaker 1: (01:15)

Um, and then you’ll see a catalog of masterclasses on the website, on everything from Birds and Bees in the Online World which includes how to navigate around online porn with your kids, Raising Self-reliant Kids in the digital age with Dr. Dan Siegel, managing meltdowns with Janet Landsbury, chores with Patty Wipfler,and co-parenting with a narcissist with Wendy Behary, I think. I think we have 16 classes altogether. Of course. There’s also information at Susanstiffelman.com about the monthly Parenting Without Power Struggles membership program, which you can try for just a dollar by using coupon code Podcast19 when you register at Susanstiffelman.com/membership. I encourage you just to take a look at the page, see if it resonates with you. I work personally with parents twice every month answering questions, role-playing, coaching, and we have a lot of fun, so you may want to check that out too. Now let’s get started. Hi Jessica. 


Speaker 1: (02:17)

Hi Susan. Great to be with you. Glad you’re here. So Jessica Morey is the executive director of inward bound mindfulness education, which is a national nonprofit that offers wonderful mindfulness retreats and training for teens and parents and the professionals who support them. She began practicing meditation at the age of 14 on teen retreats, offered by the insight meditation society. Jessica’s a founding board member and lead teacher for the IB meet retreats. She holds a BA in environmental engineering and a master’s degrees in sustainable development and international affairs. And I love so much what you’re doing and have a personal interest because my son as a teenager actually was one of your camp counselors one summer. And I know he had a very deep and powerful experience. So what great work you’re doing. Tell us about IB, me. What prompted you to start it and what results have you seen from those who’ve attended 


Speaker 2: (03:18)

Yeah, so, we’re going into our 10th year as an organization. Um, and actually the retreat model, as you mentioned, I went on teen or chase as a teenager at the insight meditation society. And so the retreat model that we teach for teenagers really comes out of that history and lineage. So it’s, you know, over 30, almost 30 years of teen retreats. Um, but the, there were folks that were teaching these retreats, um, through other nonprofits and we kinda didn’t really have a home. And I got back involved when I was in my twenties, um, in 2007. And so around that time we said, you know, we should really make a nonprofit so that we can organize these better, offer more of them around the country. Um, so that’s how we just, we decided to found and get, get involved in the running of, of IB me. So 


Speaker 1: (04:13)

I know that when my son was there, it was just a beautiful setup. Everything you create for the teens who were involved as well as the counselors is done with so much care. Can you describe that a little bit? 


Speaker 2: (04:27)

Yeah. Um, yeah, so the, the daily schedule and the model is, um, very carefully and thoughtfully structured. Um, so there’s periods of silence and talking, um, can imagine having a silent meditation retreat with 30 to 50 teenagers might be impossible. Um, so there’s a lot of social time and what we call relational mindfulness. Every day teens are together for two hours in a small group twice. So it’s twice a day for an hour. And they do a lot of sharing about what’s happening in their lives, their challenges, listening to each other, uh, playing and connecting. And we talk about that as like bringing mindfulness and presence interrelationship and really clear ways. Yeah. And then there’s also just fun. Like we have workshops in the afternoon that are sports or arts or, uh, hikes in the woods and then a big dance party the last night. So it’s also very engaging and alive and fun. And 


Speaker 1: (05:32)

I re, I believe what happens is that this is a no cell phone atmosphere. 


Speaker 2: (05:39)

Yes, yes, it is. So, and that’s just been an amazing shift in the time that I’ve been involved. Cause 2007 was a year, the iPhone came out and that was the first year I started staffing as an adult. And, um, yeah, so it’s just been amazing to watch over that time that we basically had to take on the policy that you could not have your cell phone while you were on retreat. Um, and we’re finding that that’s sometimes it’s like one of the most valuable aspects for the teens that they get to be away from technology and social media and actually connect with peers real time, face to face, just present. 


Speaker 1: (06:18)

So what is that like? I don’t want to spend the whole conversation on that, but it’s so up for parents, you know, how I have a gate, their kids constant desire to be on their phone or engaging in social media. How is it for the kids who show up? And I’m assuming that they know in advance that this is a, you know, an unplugged period of time, but do you have kids who really struggle with that? Do you see kids visibly relaxed after a day or two? 


Speaker 2: (06:46)

Yeah, I mean there’s a complete transformation within a few days for the teens. And so at first it’s definitely uncomfortable for many of them. Um, we have a high return rate. So the teens who are coming back again mostly are very happy to give up their phones because after a few days they get to see that the benefit. Many teens don’t want their phone back at the end of the retreat. And we’ve even heard teens tell, tell stories about, you know, after leaving the retreat just inside of themselves, they decided to delete certain social media apps or take breaks from their phones at different times. So, um, yeah, a lot of teens end up liking it and we usually will end the retreat. We’ll give them back their cell phones and actually do a meditation using the phone as, as the object of meditation and exploring like what does it feel like to actually open your phone to hear the messages? Like how does your body feel? Where are your emotions? Like how’s your attention, where is it getting drawn? So we do also make that an explicit part of the practice. 


Speaker 1: (07:56)

That’s fantastic. What an opportunity for a teen to really at that crucial critical developmental time absorb without their parents around, but through the influence of, you know, cool hip, older kids absorb. Some of these ideas and practices. So what do you see from kids who’ve attended, you know, how do, how do their lives seem different after they’ve had that time? Honored? 


Speaker 2: (08:21)

Yeah, I mean, so, you know, you’ve seen huge transformations. Um, and so I can share a couple of sort of the anecdotes for me. What’s meaningful to me personally. And then we’ve also done some research with the university of Pittsburgh on the retreats. And so the research has shown and really in some ways it validated what we seen, uh, anecdotally that pre post and then three months post retreat. Teens has significant increases in their sort of general wellbeing, their life satisfaction, mood decrease in rumination, decrease in anxiety and depression, um, and increases in self-compassion. And so one of the things that we saw in the research was that the greater the increase in self-compassion, the greater all the other benefits were. Um, and that’s just something that we hear over and over again. Teen sharing something. Like for the first time I saw that I was lovable or I felt like I belonged in a community of my peers. I felt fully accepted. Um, so stories like that that I think having those experiences can be completely life changing. Even if, you know, they go back to a high school that doesn’t feel as comfortable or safe or welcoming. They have had the experience of being fully welcomed and fully accepted. And I think that that changes something inside of us. 


Speaker 3: (09:50)



Speaker 2: (09:51)

That’s just beautiful. What a gift to give a young person. Can you see a little bit more about what is going on developmentally for adolescents in the teenage brain that can make it both challenging for parents and also 


Speaker 2: (10:06)

Awe. Inspiring and miraculous. Yeah. Yup, for sure. And so just to give a little plug for our mutual friend Dan Siegel, his book brainstorm, which is on the teen brain is probably my favorite, um, for parents. And it’s also written for teens. So if you haven’t checked that out, I would highly recommend brainstorm. Um, and so what he’s really highlighting is it’s both, it’s both the opportunities and the risks of the teenage brain. And what I like about his framing is it seems like we can often like think of the teenage years as this sort of terrible period that we all just have to get through. We have to survive. And he’s really highlighting like, it’s, it’s amazing, like it’s one of the most valuable and important times of life, um, for an individual, but also for society. Right? So he’s talking about, you know, w teens are, um, there’s a whole bunch of changes in the brain around pruning off excess synopsis and myelinating. 


Speaker 2: (11:13)

So increasing the speed of connection between the synapses that are used the most. So what this means is that also the activities and habits and lifestyles of teenagers is particularly important because that’s the time when they’re really laying down these networks that will be in place a little bit stronger for the rest of their life. So, which is one of the reasons why it’s so valuable to be doing contemplative practices or compassion development, attention and focus and concentration development, these kinds of things. Um, and then mindfulness, we know, increases integration in the brain. So it connects the prefrontal cortex with the amygdala giving little bit more response versus reaction time, emotion management, resilience. These are all things if you have a teenager, you know, our challenges. So yeah, it’s um, it’s kind of amazing what we know what is happening in the teenage brain and what we know happens through practice, through contemplative mindfulness and compassion practice. The match up there is in some ways kind of incredible. 


Speaker 2: (12:21)

So we know that there are increasing reports of teens struggling with stress, with depression, anxiety, self-harm. How can these practices mitigate or minimize the likelihood that a teen will head down that road? Yeah, yeah. I mean, and this is something we’ve noticed for sure in our applications and in teens reporting on retreat for over the last 10, 12 years. Um, so I would say that first piece about developing a core sense of your own goodness is a foundation to work from, to address anxiety, depression, and self-harm. So that’s really just like a foundational piece. It’s so valuable to help teens really connect into, um, 


Speaker 2: (13:09)

the other pieces, you know, so much anxiety and depression. Rumination is coming out of like thoughts and emotions that are kind of running out of control and that we believe, so we believe our thoughts, we believe our emotions, that they, um, that we have to do something about them, that they’re real in some way. And through the meditation practice, we can actually start to see that these are just like changing. They’re coming and going. Sometimes they come out of nowhere, but basically we don’t have to believe our thoughts all the time. And then we can develop an actual skill, like a muscle that can decide like, do I want to actually continue to pay attention to this thought train or do I want to take my attention and shifted somewhere else that’s going to lead to more happiness? Or that’s gonna, you know, have more wellbeing for me. 


Speaker 2: (14:01)

And you can actually see like, wow, I have that choice. I can take my attention and move it over here. And so just getting that greater choicefulness, um, is, is hugely important. So a lot of practices, like a lot of therapeutic approaches like DBT therapy, use that skill that comes out of meditation. And mindfulness. Um, so those are just some of the, the things that I think about with, with the value. And then what I hear like this summer I heard an amazing story from a parent, um, came up to me, we have a parent workshop at the end of every retreat came up to me and he said, you know, I just need to tell you, my older son came on retreat two years ago and he was having serious anxiety, panic attacks. He’d been in really good therapy for a couple of years. We sent him on your retreat. He came home and he has not had a panic attack since. And he says that he T he considers himself anxiety disorder free. And so to me it was totally amazing to hear that cause, and in some ways I’m like, I don’t even know how, I know there’s something magical happening in terms of the community in terms of the practice. But I couldn’t tell you how exactly that kind of effect happens. 


Speaker 1: (15:12)

Well, I can relay because I come from a family of, you know, worriers and had all the sort of components and elements in place. But I also started meditating when I was 16 or 17 no, it, you know, it’s been a bumpy ride from time to time. There is a way that, that I feel anchored that I’ve seen happen with the kids I’ve worked with as well. I think it’s just revel atory to teenagers and to adults, but to, to consider the fact that we don’t have to believe every thought that appears in our head. So sometimes I give this analogy to kind of illustrate this idea of not necessarily having to jump on board with every thought train. I love that. That appears in your head. So I’ll tell a young person, imagine that somebody kind of barges into your house. They go into your fridge, they get a soda or an ice tea or a drink, and then they go into your bed and they grabbed the remote. 


Speaker 1: (16:11)

They’re laying on your bed, they’re flipping through the channels. Right? And would you come in and say, Hey, would you like a sandwich with that? No. You’d say, no, you’re not welcome here. Get outta here. Right. Compare that intruder to a thought that just because a thought shows up doesn’t mean you need to make it a sandwich. You don’t have to every thought and make it comfortable. You can choose and decide which to pursue or which to allow yourself to observe OIC, that there’s a thought suggesting I should be anxious about X, Y, and Z and letting it pass. Just like a cloud might pass in the sky 


Speaker 2: (16:52)

completely. And I mean so and like, I think what’s been amazing and sometimes that that insight and that experience can be challenging to have a direct experience. So if, if you’re just, you’re meditating for five or 10 or 15 minutes at home, cause there’s so much else going on and you’re so in your life, you know, and it’s like, no, actually I do need to be anxious about that thing. You know? But when you go on retreat, so everything’s turned off, the distractions are away. It’s simplified. You’re meditating for four hours that day in different chunks. You get to just see the patterns of your mind and you get to see like, I don’t actually have anything I have to do right now and yet my mind is still making up that story. So there is something about being on retreat that just helps make those insights explicit and really like settle in. Um, yeah. 


Speaker 1: (17:47)

That’s fantastic. I feel so happy to hear this and to imagine some of the parents who are tuning in, having an aha moment and realizing that it might be beneficial for their kids to have this kind of an experience at such a formative age. Let’s wrap up with a tip and then I want to make sure people know how to find you. What’s one thing that parents can practice in the week ahead? Taking in some of the things. 


Speaker 2: (18:13)

Yeah, I mean, so one thing that I always say is, is if you think your team could really benefit from meditation, then the best thing you can do is, is cultivate that, practice yourself as a role model and that they might that that that’s a wonderful way to start. And then very specifically in your daily life, a practice that I’d love to, to offer you is when you’re with your child, can you practice being totally present with them? And so what that means is, is put down all the technology completely turn your eyes in your body towards them. If your mind wanders into thinking about the past or the future, you just bring it back, pay attention to them. Have a sense of connecting in presence with your child and see that. And maybe just do it for five minutes, like just have that be a practice every time you see them when they walk in the door, can you drop everything and just be present and see how that shifts things in your relationship. 


Speaker 3: (19:10)



Speaker 1: (19:11)

Thanks Jessica. What a pleasure to talk with you. It’s been a long time since we’ve been in the same room, but it’s nice to be able to connect this way. 


Speaker 2: (19:20)

Yeah, thank you so much. I’m really grateful to be on it and I’m grateful for your work supporting parents. 


Speaker 1: (19:26)

So how can I find out more about what you’re up to? 


Speaker 2: (19:30)

Yeah, so, um, our, the website for inward bound mindfulness education, IBme.com. And so if you go there, you’ll see all about the retreats. We have, um, two teen retreats over new years that are coming up pretty soon. Uh, and then we have 12 retreats across the country in the summer for teens and one for parents in August. So if you want to come and have an experience, you can, um, come on retreat with us in Massachusetts in August and I’ll be teaching that one as well. Great. 


Speaker 1: (20:06)

And everyone, if you’d like to get our newsletter for parenting with that power struggles or you want to find out about the masterclasses or the membership, please visit Susan stifelman.com. 


Speaker 2: (20:17)

Thank you again Jessica. Thank you. 


Speaker 1: (20:21)

Thank you everyone for tuning in. I love having this time with you, sharing support to help you raise your children with great joy and love and connection. I can’t imagine anything more important in today’s world than bringing up kids who are clear-headed, compassionate, and resilient. So thanks for committing to growing and learning as a parent. I hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode. As always, if you have a minute and you can leave a review or rating, it’s much appreciated. And please tell a friend. You may also want to subscribe to the podcast so you can be notified whenever a new episode is released. So that’s it for today. I look forward to joining you next time. Meanwhile, remember that no matter how busy life gets, look for those moments of sweetness. 


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