The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen February, 2002

in this issue

Stop Mediating These Conflicts Now!

The Rookies and the Veterans Revisited

About Us

Stop Bullying in Your School

School Mediation Associates conducts a variety of initiatives to help educators "bully-proof" their schools, including:

*Faculty in-service presentations and workshops

*Coaching for teachers

*Curriculum integration

*Programs for student leaders

Our 18 years of experience can help you make a difference in your school. Contact us for more information.

Welcome to the February issue of The School Mediator.

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Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

This month's feature article urges caution when mediating disputes that involve bullying.

Stop Mediating These Conflicts Now!

When Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold blasted their way into Columbine High School, and the national consciousness, they forced the issue of bullying onto American educators' overcrowded agenda. This is because Harris and Klebold--as well as a great many of the young men implicated in other school shootings--were the victims of school bullying.

Most broadly defined, a student is being bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or a group of more powerful students.

The father of the modern anti-bullying movement, Dan Olweus, has studied bullying for decades. A few of the highlights of Olweus' seminal research include:

* 15% of students are affected by bullying, either as bullies (9%) or victims (6%). (This equals roughly 3 students in every classroom!)

* Both boys and girls bully, though a slightly higher percentage of boys are involved. Male bullies tend to use direct methods such as physical or verbal aggression, while females are more likely to use indirect strategies like spreading rumors or threatening to reveal personal information.

* Most students don't tell educators when they are bullied, in part because they do not believe adults can help them.

Most significant for the peer mediation community, Olweus and his colleagues around the globe state unequivocally: Conflicts between bullies and their victims should not be mediated, especially not by students.

Why? Research has shown that adult authority is the single most effective deterrent to bullying.

In addition, students who are victimized are usually not very good at advocating for themselves. (This is why bullies select them in the first place.) And students who bully often have great difficulty taking responsibility for their actions and empathizing with or feeling compassion for their victims.

It is inappropriate to encourage such an asymmetrical pair to mediate without first addressing the bully's offensive behavior. It is analogous to the court system coercing a person whose home was looted to "talk it out" with an unrepentant burglar. In this context, the use of mediation, and especially of mediation alone, appears to implicitly condone the perpetrator's behavior as well as put the victim in harm's way.

The prospect of bullies and victims mediating has generated the concern of anti-bullying advocates. My knowledge of current practice in the field convinces me that their concerns are justified.

Whenever we encourage bullies and their victims go to peer mediation as a first resort, we do students a disservice.

Instead, the initial strategy to combat bullying has to be the creation of a school climate in which bullying is not tolerated. Adults must take the lead in this work, demonstrating through word and deed that bullying is unacceptable and that those who engage in it will be subject to unpleasant consequences.

Peer mediation coordinators must strive to prevent victims from mediating with students who bully. The clearest indicators of bullying are an inequality of both power and affect among parties to a conflict, and a frequent re-occurrence of their dispute.

Peer mediation can be a second or third resort, but only if, as in victim-offender mediation:

1. The harasser's behavior has been addressed by adult authority, and
2. The victim sincerely wants to speak directly with the harasser.

My second book, The School Mediators Field Guide, includes information that can help you assess whether mediating is wise for any particular case. (Click here to read an excerpt.)

Consider initiating a campaign to stop bullying in your school. There are a number of excellent curricula available. Although adults take the lead, the entire student body can become involved as well. Even bullies can change if they are provided with appropriate services. The tools are available, and there is good reason for optimism. Become informed, and act.

Your thoughts...

The Rookies and the Veterans Revisited
Our query in the last issue regarding ways to integrate veteran and rookie mediators was clearly not a hot button issue for our readers. We received only one response. It is posted below:

We hold biweekly meetings and during the first few meetings we play teambuilding games. Everyone likes games like the Rubber Chicken game and the inner tube game. The mediators get to know each other and have fun together. This makes it easier when they mediate together for the first time. As always, food is also a great "friend-maker." We have had holiday parties where each student brings food from their cultural background to share with each other.

Francine Rondina
Peer Mediation Coordinator
Lowell High School, MA, USA

About Us

For almost twenty years, School Mediation Associates has been devoted to the application and promotion of mediation in schools. SMA's mission is to transform schools into safer, more caring, and more effective institutions. Our books and training programs have been utilized by tens of thousands of people around the world.

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Watertown, MA 02472 USA

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