The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen Vol. V, 1/06

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Young Mediators Better Than Adults

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The School Mediator's Field Guide:
Prejudice, Sexual Harassment, Large Groups and Other Daily Challenges
by Richard Cohen
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Students Resolving Conflict:
Peer Mediation in Schools

by Richard Cohen
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Happy New Year, and welcome to the January issue of The School Mediator.

This month's issue outlines why young people are often better suited than adults to mediate the disputes of their peers.

As always, please send along your thoughts.

Wishing you the best for 2006, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

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  • Young Mediators Better Than Adults

  • My 9-year-old son played Little League Baseball for the first time last Spring. Sam is crazy about baseball, and little thrills him (and by extension, us) like game time.

    The protective parent in me had one major reservation about Little League, however, a concern which can be summed up in three words: Baseballs are hard. Sam is quite skilled for his age-- sleeping with your glove on has its benefits--but I worried that his forehead would not welcome a speeding hard ball.

    What I forgot was that Sam would not be pitching to Manny Ramirez. He was pitching to his peers, kids who I soon learned hit the ball only occasionally, and rarely beyond the infield.

    In fact, 9-year-olds generally hit the baseball in a way that other 9-year- olds can field.

    The same can be said for peer mediation.

    With few exceptions, the conflicts that students become involved in, whether they are elementary or college students, have an age-appropriate level of complexity. And contrary to some adults' doubts about young people's abilities, peer mediators can handle these conflicts.

    Here my baseball analogy falls short, however. For while the average adult baseball enthusiast can field the ball with more finesse than even the most skilled 9-year-old, young people bring unique strengths to this work that make them best suited to mediate the garden variety conflicts of their peers; better even than the most skilled adults. Consider the following*:

    · Students Understand their Peers
    Despite the best of intentions, there will always be a gulf of understanding that separates generations. Young people know from experience what it is like to be a student, in these times, under these circumstances. They know the pressures, the attitude, and the language of youth; they know what their peers think is important and why. This gives them a natural advantage.

    · Students Make the Process Age-Appropriate
    The work of Robert Selman has shown that young people's approach to problem solving changes as they develop. Egocentric and impulsive at first, they ideally progress through a series of stages until they can collaborate to resolve conflicts. Using peer mediators ensures that disputes are framed in a developmentally appropriate way (adults often talk over students' heads). In addition, the essentially collaborative nature of the mediation process guides students towards ever higher stages of development.

    · Students Empower their Peers Because they Have No Power Over them
    When students mediate, they command respect solely by the way they conduct themselves in the session. Consequently, student parties feel more in control of their dispute. And with no authority figure to resist, they are more likely to "confront" themselves and each other.

    · Students Command the Respect of their Peers
    Young people look to their peers to fulfill many of their needs--in some ways, a student's peers command more respect even then adults. When student mediators conduct the session with maturity and poise, this "positive peer pressure" leads parties to take the process seriously.

    · Students Normalize the Conflict Resolution Process
    Students are accustomed to meeting with disciplinarians or other adults when they are in conflict. This attaches a stigma to conflict resolution. In peer mediation, however, students in conflict sit and talk with other students. It is not unlike regular life. Peer mediators normalize conflict resolution and implicitly communicate that it is "OK" to talk out problems.

    Young people, then, are uniquely suited to mediate their own conflicts. This fact accounts in part for peer mediation's effectiveness.

    What are your thoughts?

    *From Students Resolving Conflict: Peer Mediation in Schools

  • About Us
  • For twenty-one 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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