Recently we had an opportunity to speak with Haylee Warner, the Curriculum Developer/Instructor at Inner Strength Education about Inner Strength Vibe
Please share with us the backstory of what motivated you to create this app.
We were looking for a way to engage teens with mental wellness practices and inspire them to become curious about exploring themselves in a constructive, developmental, and open-ended way. We also wanted to be able to stay in touch with the students we work with long after they completed our in-school Inner Strength program. With app technology becoming so ubiquitous, especially during the pandemic, it became obvious that we should have a way to make Inner Strength's trauma-sensitive mindfulness tools available to any teen in English speaking countries who wants to use them. Our organization, Inner Strength Education is a non-profit that teaches mindfulness, inquiry and systems thinking to teens in Philadelphia's public high schools. More than 16,000 teens have completed our core 12-week program and the mobile app gives them a way to continue to work on their own with the concepts and activities that they learned in class. We have some innovative ideas we're excited to build in the future to further develop the communication role of mobile technology and enable teens to have positive, supportive, and constructive conversations with each other. This will take some work both technologically as well as in monitoring but now that we have the platform, we are looking ahead.
What features do you hope to roll out to your app in the future?
Some of your readers may remember a movement about twenty or thirty years ago called Conversation Cafes, Enlightened Communication, or Emergent Dialogue Process that were being experimented with. These in-person formats helped groups come up with insights, conclusions, and solutions that could only come about through a shared conversation process. These technologies allowed new knowing to emerge, possibilities that were constructive, positive, and connecting. We aspire to evolve the next chat functionality to train our teens in this type of emergent communication. We believe we can build--through a combination of algorithms and live staff mentorship--a forum that teaches teens how to develop deeper sensitivity, compassion, and creativity. This would be a great benefit to them personally, filling them with hope, support, and creative passion. It would also be of great benefit to the public discourse, which needs some improvement these days!
What has been the most rewarding aspect of the creation of this app?
The most rewarding part of creating this app is seeing teens respond to the push notifications by taking action and answering the polls. We are seeing teens make a habit of the daily check-in, and when teens make it a habit to cultivate their mental health, there is a good chance it will stick with them their entire life. It's also been incredibly rewarding hearing teens encourage their friends to download the app. Given what we are seeing in our schools and in some of the download data, we can safely assume this is also happening outside class. Soon there will be a tipping point, and we'll start seeing the downloads increase beyond our direct outreach. That's when we know it's become part of the youth culture.
What is the coolest or most innovative feature of your app?
The coolest feature on our app is the explore section. This is not just an app with guided meditations, but we actually encourage and foster teen curiosity and exploration into the evolutionary development of the brain, cultural context and even philosophy!
What surprised you most in your journey to create this app?
What surprised me most was the teens' desire for positive affirmations. In our beta testing we had a cohort of 17 teens who gave us honest feedback about the activities on the app. Their biggest request was for more affirmations - sayings they could use to encourage themselves and boost their mood. In response to their feedback, we created an entire area called "practicing positivity." It was definitely a pleasant surprise.
Which other mobile apps or technology have inspired you?
We were inspired by other adult mindfulness apps like MyLife (formerly Stop. Breathe. Think) Headspace, and Insight Timer. We have also been inspired by some of the new Avatar technologies being experimented with and some of the new smart conversation functions. We haven't incorporated those yet but we are certainly dreaming about some future fun possibilities!
Do you have any recommendations or advice for others wanting to create a mobile app?
Give yourself a lot of time and patience as you build out your app. Dream big, but then create smaller steps to help you find your way through the technology to achieve the goals you want. Shop around for an app company that has the capacity, experience, and backend to accommodate more and more advanced technology.
How did you decide which platforms to release your app on and do you plan on releasing your app to other platforms?
Accessibility is really important to us as we were creating our app. It is currently available on the Apple App store and on Google Play. There is no paywall, the download is entirely free which is important to teens who often don't have access to payment methods without parental permission. We wanted them to have autonomy. At the moment, we have no plans to expand to other platforms.
How is your app different than the rest of the market? Which unique need does it fill?
Inner Strength VIBE is the first teen mindfulness app that builds in trauma sensitive tools and mental health supports as well as providing a learning curriculum that challenges them to think more deeply about human thought, our capacity for awareness, how the brain develops, and how culture influences us. It doubles as a practical support for those experiencing difficulty focusing, sleeping, calming themselves and becomes an invitation for teens to be scientists of their experience and philosophers of mind. Many people underestimate a teen's capacity for deep thinking. Youth who are struggling with systemic racism, poverty, and neighborhood violence also love to dream big, explore unanswerable questions, and figure out who they are, what they care about, and what their purpose is. When we invite young people to engage with time-honored philosophical questions they gain a sense of self-confidence, self-respect, and self-authorship. We need adults with those qualities to better shepherd our increasingly complex world. VIBE was developed in a large American city, Philadelphia, which is beset with many social and economic issues. The activities are culturally sensitive and take into account some of the challenges teens may experience, and is responsive to those issues.
You can view Inner Strength Vibe here
For more information, visit: https://innerstrengtheducation.org/teen-mindfulness-mobile-app/