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Peer Mediation in Schools
Welcome to the March issue of
This month we explore the impact of Instant
Messaging communications on student conflict.
Take a moment to
send along your
thoughts and experiences.
Wishing you the best, wherever you are,
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates
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Nick: "Would you mind if I 'hang out' with
Jason: "No. Would you mind if I 'hang out' with
Nick began to date Yvonne after this exchange,
concluding from Jason's words that he didn't seem to
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Yvonne was Jason's ex-girlfriend, and the last thing
Jason wanted was Nick--a buddy since elementary
school--dating her. Not only would it make things
awkward between him and Nick, but Jason still missed
Jason was being sarcastic when he suggested that he
wouldn't mind. He assumed that Nick would figure that
out when he referenced Lisa, an ex-girlfriend that Nick
still pined over.
Problem is, Nick and Jason communicated in a manner
that decreased the chances that they would be
understood: They used Instant Messaging.
Instant Messaging, or "IM," is a relatively new form of
communication that is increasingly popular with young
people, especially 10 to 15 year olds. It is
unusual for students to spend 90 minutes using IM
Instant Messaging is basically emailing in real time. I
send a message to you, you read the message and type
one back to me, and our messages are viewable on
each other's computer screens almost instantaneously.
In addition to one-on-one messaging, groups of people
can participate in an IM "conversation" virtually
Ask any group of computer-literate middle schoolers
whether they have had a conflict that was related to, or
aggravated by, IM, and many will raise their
Jason and Nick's story illustrates perhaps the greatest
source of IM-related conflicts: misunderstandings
concerning the meaning of communications. If Nick and
Jason had spoken face-to-face, for
instance, Nick could have seen Jason's hurt facial
expression, heard his ironic tone, and asked: "Are you
serious?" But as IM delivers solely textual information,
users are often required to make educated guesses to
decipher its meaning.
And this sort of miscommunication is just the beginning
of IM-related conflicts. Our
sample group of 12-year-olds would go on to describe
disputes like the following:
What's the Password: Every IM user has a
intended to protect their identity online. But students
come to know each others' passwords, and intentionally
assume identities in order to trick/harass each other.
Cut and Paste: Students copy messages
one person and send it on to an unintended recipient,
manipulate messages, and even print them out and
Who's Out There?: It is very difficult to be
whom one is actually communicating via IM.
Students bait one another to say negative things about
people who, unbeknownst to the communicator, are privy
to the conversation. Or they talk to one person on IM
and simultaneously relay what that person is saying to
yet another person via the telephone.
"Profile" Problems: Each IM user has a "profile"
that outlines, among other things, their screen name,
interests, and friends. Peers gauge their relationships
according to this page, and become upset if they are not
Me and My Buddies: Each IM user creates a
"buddies:" other users who can easily participate in their
online conversations. Conflicts arise regarding who is or
is not included on another's buddy list.
Significantly, recent research indicates
that IM--and email in general--is not a neutral means of
communication. Characteristics of IM actually seem
increase the frequency and intensity of school-based
Educators and parents must begin to educate young
people about how to use IM wisely. Luckily, it doesn't
require an advanced degree to avoid IM-related
problems; just common sense. Begin with the
1. Do not talk about people behind their backs.
2. Do not say anything on IM that you wouldn't want
posted at school.
3. For difficult conversations or conflicts, don't use IM.
Pick up the phone, or better yet, meet with the other
person and talk face-to-face.
4. Be explicit when you are being sarcastic or silly so
that your tone is not misunderstood.
How has Instant Messaging effected conflicts in your
Please send along your experiences and thoughts...
Read how one journalist/parent handled the IM dilemma with his daughter.
--nm jc u?
--who do u lyk?
i luv john
--omg! him? ewww!
wut'z hiz sn?
--i dunno g2g hw
Teenage IM users have developed a language that is
part contemporary cool, part shorthand. Use the
glossary that follows to translate the sample IM
143: i love you
aaf: always and forever
bbl: be back later
bf4l: best friends for life
brb: be right back
g2g: got to go
jc: just chillin'
lol: laugh out loud
nm: nothing much
omg: oh my god
sn: screen name
sup?: what's up
ttyl: talk to you later
Thank you to students at Belmonte Saugus Middle
School, Saugus, MA, (especially Jesse Smith and Kelly
McCarthy) and Easton Jr. High School, Easton, MA, for
their help with this issue.
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