We’ve previously written about mediation being offered for juvenile court cases, but this story takes childhood and adolescence mediation a step further. Students at a Massachusetts middle school have the option to resolve conflicts by participating in mediation led by other students at their middle school. This student-led mediation seems to be popular, with 20 conflicts being mediated by peers during the 2018/2019 school year.
This program is not new to the school district; peer-led mediations have been occurring since 1991 at the local high school. This was the first year the program was expanded to the middle school, however.
How does this peer mediation work, exactly?
A group of around 20 students participates in a 3-day training that teaches the importance of confidentiality in mediation, how to be an active listener, and how to not take sides while acting as a mediator. The students represent different grades, races, genders; and some of the students hold high grades with low conflict levels, while some may be struggling with school or involved in conflict themselves.
One of the mediation coordinators for this program, Yvette Cheeks, explains how important it is for the different identities of students within the school to be represented through the mediators. “We specifically do target some students who are having conflicts themselves, because we find that they end up being our best mediators,” she also explains. “Because when they get put in that role they are able to handle the situations.” (“Schools See Results” 2019).
Benefits of Peer Mediation
Faculty at the middle school are in support of the program. “What we have found is that sometimes it can be more successful, because it’s coming from another peer,” explains assistant principal Michael Banks. “It could be an eighth grader mediating a problem with two fifth graders and the eighth grader really understanding the issues even more so than we (administrators) might. And those fifth graders find those kids credible.” (“Schools See Results” 2019).
In a recent interview, Pollack Peacebuilding Systems’ founder Jeremy Pollack spoke on the importance of a mediator being seen as an ally to all of the involved parties in a conflict. Children are often looking to gain more independence in their lives, and they may be more willing to open up to and participate with a peer rather than someone they may see as an authority figure, such as a teacher or other faculty member.
There are many other benefits to peer mediation. Children learn how to work together to solve conflicts rather than resorting to immature methods of handling the conflict (fighting, etc.) or turning to an adult to solve the problem for them and losing out on the skills learned from processing and resolving it by cooperating with their peers.
Conflict resolution is also a life skill. As mentioned here, “Young people need to be able to communicate effectively, appreciate the consequences of their actions, generate and evaluate alternative solutions to problems, and co-exist with people with whom they disagree.” (“The Benefits of Peer Mediation”).
Students coming together to solve a conflict can also be an empowering experience. Students who gain self-confidence from resolving a conflict may also get some core human needs met. In particular, this boost in self-confidence could positively impact a child’s sense of personal significance, authentic connection and acceptance, and progress. Meeting these needs can help prevent conflict from happening in the future, so peer mediation can lead to a positive cycle of less conflict.
Future of Conflict Resolution
Over here at Pollack Peacebuilding, we are excited to see how often mediation is being introduced to the younger generations, through both schools and the court system. We believe the earlier people begin to learn these conflict resolution skills, the more peace there will be within organizations and institutions — even worldwide.