To evaluate the impacts of CCYP, we partnered with a high school in a suburban area of western Pennsylvania and conducted a quasi-experimental pilot study of the program. The 34 students who participated in the program were peer-nominated into an existing schoolwide initiative aimed at empowering students whose grade-level peers viewed them as naturally kind and helpful. Because peers looked to them for care and support, we thought it would be important to support the further development of compassion skills in these students. To provide a match to this unique group, we created a comparison group that included 40 students who had also been peer-nominated, but who did not participate in CCYP. The program was delivered virtually in the fall of 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic and impacts were assessed in relation to the comparison group.
Overall, adolescents reported that the program was well implemented and acceptable. Results also showed that the program had positive impacts on adolescents’ self-compassion, sense of interdependence (i.e., feeling as though humans are connected to one another), and perspective-taking over time compared to adolescents in the comparison group. The program also seemed to improve female adolescents’ mindful awareness over time. Contrary to our expectations, adolescents in the program group did not show greater improvements in their compassion for others. Perhaps a lack of good measurement of compassion for others, ceiling effects in which these caring adolescents did not have much room to grow on these skills, the virtual nature of the program, and other factors may have explained these results. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic may have hindered students’ ability to practice and improve upon skills related to compassion for others given limited social contact occurring during the study period.
Taken in total, we believe the results indicate the potential of the CCYP to positively impact aspects of adolescents’ psychological and social development in ways that can improve their mental health and relationships during this challenging time in history.
This research also suggests a need for more rigorous program evaluations of this and similar programs that extend work on mindfulness and therapeutic outcomes to compassion and relational outcomes. Results also indicate a need for better measurement tools for compassion for others and greater attention to gender differences in the teaching and evaluation of compassion trainings.
Compassion-based programs may provide a better “fit” with adolescents’ increasing social awareness, motivation, and need for relatedness, especially for adolescents who are sought out by their peers for care and support. Indeed, one 11th grade student expressed that she “enjoyed learning how we are not alone and that we all need to face problems together” and that the program made her realize “that mindfulness is not just about one person.” If we seek to address the social-related difficulties of adolescents, and to cultivate virtues like compassion for self and others during this important developmental stage, providing programs like CCYP could be a fruitful direction of research and practice. As one 10th grade student concluded, “There are students who are just trying to keep up a façade of being perfect and looking good. If there was a way to mess up the façade and make mindfulness and compassion the norm, it would be really helpful.”