By Steven G. MehtaSteve Mehta

Many news stories have tragically addressed the issue of two pre-teenage boys who committed suicide because they were bullied.  These stories focus on the child and the things that parents and schools did to avoid the problem.  One thing that more schools need to do to avoid such problems of bullying, conflict resolution, and dispute management is the concept of peer mediation.

 Peer mediation is a strategy that teaches student mediators strategies to help resolve conflict among their peers. Peer mediation can be instituted at any age in school from early elementary to high school.  In peer mediation, students are trained as conflict managers.  They learn ways to solve problems and to assist their peers in settling disputes in a way that everyone can live with.  Peer mediation helps to keep many minor incidents from escalating over time into more serious incidents.

 One of the advantages of peer mediation, is the fact that in the case of a dispute, the disputing parties’ peers are helping to resolve the dispute instead of a parent or teacher.  The students, with the assistance of the peer mediator, learn how they can resolve the dispute themselves in a peaceful fashion.  In addition, several social studies have found that children are often influenced by their peers more than their parents.  According to Nancy Kaplan, in an article originally published by School Safety, Winter 1996, entitled “Student mediation: opportunity and challenge ” teaching students to employ conflict resolution skills produces significant results in decreasing school confrontations and violence.

One of the critical things that is taught by peer mediation is the ability to resolve conflicts in a peaceful fashion.  Rather than escalating, the peer mediators are shown life long conflict resolution skills. 

 It is the job of the mediator to assist the parties to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution.  In litigation, mediators help the parties to avoid a legal  battle.  Similarly, in peer mediation, student mediators are taught how to communicate to best solve problems and help to resolve conflicts without confrontation or violence.  The student mediators, like adult mediators, learn that conflict can be constructive and positive, and that their role as mediators is not to judge, nor to force an agreement or solution.

 Peer mediation training is not a simple one hour course.  Instead, training can last for many hours.  Some programs, for example, train their mediators for 12-15 hours.  Often when those student mediators are leaders in the student community who are respected by their peers, that 12 hour training could pay in numerous dividends throughout the community.  Frequently, other children will start to mirror behavior of people they respect.  As such, the training can have long term benefits on everyone. 

 The following techniques can help anyone to act as a mediator:

 ·         Let Each Person tell their story to the mediator uninterrupted

·         focus on issues and concerns, not on who did what,

·         Repeat the story until the person lets you know that you understand their position 
(not that they necessarily agree with it)

·         Summarize the facts and feelings of both sides

·         acknowledge the difficulty in dealing with these issues

·         Ask both parties if they can think of solutions

·         Write down all suggestions regardless of your thoughts

·         Identify what the alternatives are to not getting a solution through mediation (ie. Expulsion, suspension, etc.)

By learning and using skills from mediation, children and adults can help to confront and break the vicious circle of violence associating with bullying.