Q&A with Dr. Mark Schillinger: Teen Whisperer/Family Mentor Helps Young Men Ignite Their Inner Hero

In 2000, you founded the nonprofit organization Young Men’s Ultimate Weekend (YMUW). Can you tell us why it’s transformative?

What makes the YMUW initiation transformative is that it requires young men to think for themselves, outside in the wilderness, away from the distractions of technology and from parents who try to solve their problems for them. YMUW gives opportunities for young men to develop emotional intelligence as well as the life skills they’re going to need in order to successfully deal with the challenges of the adult world, including managing stress, problem-solving, setting goals, and having cooperative relationships with others. 

You started YMUW because you were having challenges raising your own young son after you divorced.  How has your own family relationships helped you help others?

By the time my son, Gabe, was a teenager, he was getting involved in alcohol and drugs, which I didn’t even know at first. He completely rejected my old school style of parenting which included anger and arguments. Gabe was withdrawing further away from me. I really felt like a failure. Being rejected by my own son was really painful.

I realized then that I needed to follow the example of raising children the way that my parents set, which was based on love and support. I knew that if I was going to move my family in the right direction, it was “on me” to do something to restore my family.

I started the YMUW rite of passage initiation in 2000 as a way to help other parents and their sons begin the healing process that I also needed to go through with my son. Soon after, I created a specific method, “The RIGHT Way for Family Unity” to help the YMUW mentors, and the parents of young men, to have more caring and cooperative relationships. Eventually, I started Challenging Teenage Sons, which teaches parents how to motivate their sons – without anger, arguments or anxiety.

Because of all of the love and support I received from my brothers, my former wife, and my children in support of my work, I’m blessed to have what I call, the “happiest divorced-married family in the world”. 

Is a strong family relationship integral to a young man’s growth?

Research is very clear about the harmful effects that occurs to children who don’t have their basic physical, mental and emotional needs met. 

I truly believe that when our sons are raised with the tools that I provide for parents, the young men will take good care of things by making the world a safer and more prosperous place for everyone – without discrimination towards anyone.  

You were voted as the “Best Chiropractor in Marin”. Why should people know this about you and how can it make a difference when you start working with them on other fronts such as your coaching sessions with parents and teens?

The way that I relate to being voted best chiropractor by two different newspapers in the North Bay, is because for 36 years I’ve been devoted to helping people fulfill their true potential in all areas of their life. My patients know that I sincerely listen to them and then offer up helpful and simple tips and techniques that improve their physical health, mental calmness and emotional well-being.

I use this same approach when I coach parents and teens. Helping families have more caring and cooperative relationships involves making sure that everyone is developing a healthy lifestyle. When everyone is feeling healthy and happy, they’re way more likely to cooperate with each other because they’ll have the desire and the energy to do so.

Stress management especially during this pandemic is key in dealing with any issue.  Why? 

80% of all illness is caused by stress. Stress is the number one cause of illnesses in the world. Parents and children equally suffer from the harmful effects of stress.

In order to prevent yourself from becoming anxious or depressed from the harmful effects of stress, you have to have simple techniques that you can do anywhere at any time that will consistently relax your mind. In order to maintain resourceful relationships in the family, you have to remain calm, otherwise no one will want to cooperate with you. 

You are best friends with your ex-spouse and lovingly co-parent.  What’s your secret?

We allowed the health and well-being of our children to be the reason to have a great relationship. We realized that sharing the higher purpose of raising our children together was more important than any differences we had.

Plus, we were originally attracted to each other, in part, because we were both dedicated to our personal growth journeys. Whether we explored human development teachers or teachings separately or together, we wanted each other to live the most meaningful and fulfilling lives that we possibly could. 

What makes your ultimate weekend unique compared to other people who are involved in helping young people?

Our fundamental, underlying premise of working with young men is one of our unique features, which is that there’s nothing “wrong” with teen young men and, therefore, they don’t need to be “fixed”.  YMUW avoids a traditional “talk therapy” model, which often falls short of its goals with young men. 

Instead, we conduct our event in the wilderness, using a variety of challenges which stimulates all parts of the brain that adolescent young men must develop in order to become physically healthy, mentally clear, emotionally calm and consistently disciplined in their family and community responsibilities. 

Would you ever consider sponsoring weekend rite of passage adventures for young women, and/or how can your events and the wisdom learned be beneficial to young women?

Funding is the only thing that’s kept us from doing Ultimate Weekends for young women. 

For the most part, young women and young men go through the same mental and emotional processes in their drive to individuate, move out of their house and become their own person. The technology we use with young men works equally effectively for young women.

We look forward to the day that we can not only do a rite of passage for young women, but also provide programs for both young men and women together so that they learn how to have healthy relationships based on love, generosity and cooperation.

What inspired you to become a chiropractor and how has your training and experience helped you in your work with families?

One day I hurt my shoulder at work and someone said that I should go to a chiropractor. Long story short, the chiropractor, Harvey Markovitz, opened my mind up to a whole new way of thinking about natural health. I went to chiropractic school and now, thirty-six years later, I’ve helped thousands of patients. 

Once I started working with families in the year 2000, I converted my personal growth method I was using with my patients into a specific way that parents and their teen sons could use in order to enjoy better relationships. As a chiropractor, I carefully studied how the nervous system works, which later helped me better understand adolescent brain development. 

And because my specialty as a chiropractor is in stress management, I use my proven stress reduction techniques in my family work because parents and teens are equally stressed out. Once the parents start using my simple mind-calming techniques, their children begin to calm down, so that they can have respectful conversations.

What could be lacking in these young men that your workshops and rite of passage event can heal or make better?

Unfortunately, we live in a culture that doesn’t care enough to educate our teen young men about how to best navigate his way through the digital diversions of the electronic highway, consuming social media, endless, mindless entertainment and over-the-top commercialism. 

As a result of all of the distractions, young men are not in touch with their natural biological drive to move out of their home and develop healthy relationships with others.

Therefore, the two biggest problems I see that young men are experiencing is their lack of ability, or desire, to cooperate with others, and their lack of remorse when they offend others.

You initially lived in New York.  What made you decide to move to the West Coast and how has it changed your life?

Growing up in New York City was a great place to get oriented towards the traditional outlook on life, which was having a career, making money and having a family. I was thankful for that training and yet I yearned to live in place that was more supportive of exploring alternative lifestyles.

When I was I my early twenties, I moved to Santa Cruz, California. Making that move was like landing on an alien planet! I was a somewhat mellow hippie but being in Santa Cruz back in the day, I was perceived as being intense and over-bearing!

Moving to California has directly led me to enjoy the meaningful and fulfilling life I always wanted to have. I’ve become the man I’ve always wanted to be. I’m completely at peace with my relationship to myself, my family and community, and with this Great Mystery called, Reality. I am happy, healthy and holy in a way that’s profoundly right for me.

You combine Western psychology, Eastern philosophy, and ancestral tribal wisdom. Why was it important for you to combine all of these practices into your work?

In my first two decades of studying and teaching about personal growth and family cooperation, I realized that all of these different religions only had one thing in common: they all had a very specific “way”, or method, to guide them in how to live meaningful and fulfilling lives.

In the past three decades, I’ve combined my own personal intelligence with the most insightful parts of each culture to create a “way”, or method that has helped many individuals and families move closer towards achieving their true potential.

My method, “The RIGHT Way” highlights five virtues, Respect, Intelligence, Grace, Humor and True. These are the underlying principles that guides people to overcome self-doubt and enjoy profoundly healthy relationships with themselves and with others.

Why is mind-body wellness important to a family’s overall health?

Mind and body wellness for everyone needs to be the top priority of every family. When families hold their health and well-being in the highest regard, they’ll have the health, the energy, and the desire to make the home a safe and productive place for everyone.

You are divorced, yet you and your ex-wife give workshops together.  How has this unusual dynamic helped you help other divorced parents and their children?

We know first-hand about the intense challenges that divorced parents are facing. In the workshops that we teach together, we inspire, motivate and educate them how to move past their grievances so that their children receive the best nurturing from both feminine and masculine wisdom.

In 2013, you founded Challenging Teenage Sons in an effort to help parents develop more caring and cooperative relationships.  Can you elaborate? 

I decided to create Challenging Teenage Sons in order to educate parents how to challenge, or arouse, their sons to achieve their true potential. 

What makes this work unique is that I teach parents how to provide a rite of passage event for their son right in their own homes! Applying my method enables parents to more skillfully use their authority and influence in a way that “challenges”, or inspires their son to become motivated to be more responsible for his own well-being – without yelling, nagging or punishing. 

What inspired Lisa Ling of CNN to interview you?

I’ve been on a men’s team with Warren Farrell and John Gray for ten years. Warren has authored many books about family issues, and John has authored Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. Together they wrote a really important book called The Boy Crisis.

They recommended me to Lisa Ling, who filmed the non-profit I founded, Young Men’s Ultimate Weekend (YMUW).  At the end of the YMUW there is a final ceremony for the parents to re-unite with their sons. Lisa came up to me and told me that she cried 10 times, and that she was able to observe the positive transformation the young men went through. She also spoke to parents at the parenting workshop and was impressed that parents told her how much more confident they were to raise their son to become more responsible for his own well-being.

You are also a musician.  What are other interesting facts about yourself?

When I was a teenager in New York in the 1960s, I was heavily involved with three things:
1) playing music 2) sports and 3) exploring alternative lifestyle practices, like natural foods, meditation, and yoga.  

I always wanted to be a musician and composer, writing songs that were upbeat and positive. To this day, I still compose music and I have 2 CD’s completed, both of which were produced by my son, Gabe. One CD is mind-calming music and the other is African – Reggae dance music.

I still love to play sports, including ultimate frisbee and basketball. I also do an exercise routine for 20 minutes, twice a day, seven days a week.

I read personal growth and spiritual development books every night before bed, and then do 5 minutes of meditation before falling asleep.  A big part of my time is taken up leading the board of directors and the volunteers of the non-profit I founded, Young Men’s Ultimate Weekend.

If there’s one message you’d like to wrap up with, what would it be?

My message is simply this: It’s up to us to be the motivating role models for our children to take good care of things. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

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