About the Author

Amy Herbst is an educator, counselor and an author.  She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, her 2 young boys – brothers adopted, and her Australian Shepherd, Redd.  She has taught yoga to students and teachers for the past 15 years and enjoys snowboarding, biking and hiking with her family.

Amy Herbst has more than 20 years of professional experience working with at-risk youth and their families through a student centered holistic approach.  Previously a middle school guidance counselor, Amy started her career in Los Angeles County school districts where she implemented mindfulness and yoga programs in all of the schools she has served. Since 2011, she has served as an alternative high school principal and will share her journey of learning, teaching and building a program flexible enough to meet the challenges for all students in a diverse community.  

Her unique life experience as a disengaged high school student led her to start her college career early as a high school student at Weber State University before transferring to the University of Utah where she earned a BS in Human Development and Family Studies.  She then went on to earn a Master’s in Educational Counseling with Pupil Personnel Services and Administrative credentials. “Supporting the healthy growth and wellness of children and families is not just a job, it is a calling. One that has been the highest honor of my life, second only to motherhood.”

Introduction:

On April 20, 1999 I sat glued to my television watching the news of the Columbine High School Massacre. At age 25, I could not believe the horror, and for weeks I followed the coverage, haunted by questions.  How could two young men in a quaint Colorado community open fire in their school, killing 12 students, 1 teacher, and injuring 24 others? Furthermore, how was this violence so meticulously planned out without family and peers recognizing the warning signs?  After exchanging gun-fire with police, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold turned the guns on themselves.

At that time in my life I was considering the direction of my career and life purpose, and it was then and there I decided I needed to become a school counselor and support the education and wellness of today’s youth.  I have the highest admiration and respect for teachers, but I knew that I was called to support the youth through counseling and building development programs. Just months after the Columbine tragedy, I enrolled in school to further my education, because we as humans couldn’t possibly let this happen in our schools ever again…. My life was forever changed.

There was a movement happening at this time in the early 2000’s where in society, parents and the education system turned focus and attention on empowering girls.  Due to the recent school violence at Columbine and others, there was federal funding given to schools for safety, and many programs surfaced. I observed a spike in research and the emergence of many new programs which served to promote healthy self esteem in young women.  Topics ranged from bullying to self harm, eating disorders to sex, and how to support healthy growth and empowerment for girls.  My master’s thesis was in line with this well intentioned movement, as I researched and wrote about the link between self-esteem for girls and their success in school.  I then went on to start my career as a counselor at a Wilderness Therapy School program in Montana for girls.  After a few years and I was full swing in my career as a school counselor and had developed an empowerment seminar for girls.

After 20 years as a school counselor and alternative high school principal, I am observing the results of our efforts in our educational systems – girls are now exceeding boys in graduation rates, they have much lower discipline rates, and higher numbers of young women are enrolling in college than ever before in history.  We did it! Our movement to empower girls is working!

Only now, I am a mother of boys and I am becoming very aware that we are experiencing a crisis that needs some serious attention and healing energy.  We have in some ways ignored the trajectory our parenting and school efforts have done to embrace and support girls, assuming that “boys will be boys” and that they were going to be fine. Historically, our society has been male dominated with beliefs that men were superior to women, and thank goodness we have come a long way in our move towards equality. In recent years, not only have women become leaders and more empowered in their lives than ever before, they are fighting back with equality marches, the movements of #metoo and #timeisup as courageous women stand up against sexual harassment and violence.  All of this makes my feminist heart rejoice, only I am now a mother of boys…

20 years after Columbine we no longer use the word massacre to describe a school shooting.  The news reports the tragedy of a school shooting for a few days and then moves on until the next one occurs.  What these massacres have in common besides guns is that they are all boys and men that suffer from mental illness and isolation, and lack a sense of belonging.  What the #metoo and #times up movements have in common besides violence is that perpetrators are men.

I stand in the line of the women’s march wearing my pink hat and standing next to the sign, “Our rights aren’t up for grabs and neither are we!” and I look down in my little red wagon to witness my 2 young beautiful boys and think, how will they process this and will they feel like they belong?  As they grow older, what are the messages they are hearing? Will they understand what true equality is? I know that they will grow up with the utmost respect for women and know how to talk and act in their presence (as this is strictly enforced in our home), but how will they view themselves growing up as men in this country and what does it mean to be consciously masculine?

This is the motivation I needed to start my research to develop strategies to best support the healthy growth and wellness of boys.  Parenting tends to be a generational activity – either you parent how you were parented or you do everything you can to not parent like you were parented. Growing up with my generation in the 80’s, there was the strict parenting style or there was the latch key generation starting to emerge and many us just learned to fend for ourselves. Having been in schools for the last 20 years, the pendulum has swung the other way into helicoptering, free range and now lawnmower parenting, all styles contributing to specific  outcomes. Wanting to be the best parents we could be, I dove head first into what styles and strategies produce what outcomes, especially considering that my boys have experienced neglect and trauma in their early lives prior to our adoption of them and require additional nurturing and bonding that we know is so important, especially in infancy and those early years.  Together we have built a tight knit family with the power to heal and nurture our young boys as they grow and flourish. I will share my recommendations and proven strategies and discuss how to best support your sons as they grow into conscious and confident men in today’s world.

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