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School Mediator's Field Guide:
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Peer Mediation in Schools
Welcome to the April issue of
This month we explore the tension created for peer
mediators by the realities of teenage drug use. Do
take a moment to
send along your
thoughts and experiences.
I spent last Friday with Suzanna Andrew, the fiancÈe of
Morgan McDuffee. This
issue of The School Mediator is dedicated to Morgan, and
to his family and friends who must go forward without
Morgan, a senior at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine,
was murdered while attempting to break up a fight
among his peers. He did what each of us hope we would
have done under similar circumstances: he tried to help.
his honorable action and his immeasurable sacrifice
inspire us to redouble our efforts to teach the skills of
Wishing you the best, wherever you are,
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates
PS: If you received this free newsletter directly from us,
already on our subscriber list. If a colleague forwarded
to you, you can easily subscribe by sending your email
|Peer Mediators Caught in Drug Bind
We have a drug problem.
But it's probably not what you think.
Yes, heroin use is up among young people. Yes,
the US government's War on Drugs has cost taxpayers
hundreds of billions of dollars over the last three
with virtually no net benefit.
But for student mediators, a most vexing drug-related
results from the fact that we are not of one mind on the
issue of teenage drug use.
On one hand, approximately a third of high schoolers
report that they smoke marijuana at least once a year,
and over 20% say they "binge drink" (5 plus drinks in a
row) at least once every 14 days. Recreational drug use
is a fact of life for most teenage student mediators;
even if they don't personally engage in it, they know
(and care about) people who do.
On the other hand, adults clearly disapprove of this
behavior, and rightly so. Anti-drug ads are common
across the media, and the adult world's homilies,
admonitions and (often empty) threats about drugs are
seemingly unending. And not to forget the obvious: it's
Peer mediators straddle the boundary between these two
worlds, pulled between the reality of life among their
peers and the responsibility they assume as student
leaders. This can leave them uncertain as to how to act
To understand how this plays out, assume that drug use
is mentioned by parties during a peer mediation session.
If student mediators inform their coordinator about this
illegal and potentially harmful behavior, and if the
coordinator decides to involve counselors or
administrators, mediators risk losing the trust of their
peers. But, if mediators respect their peers' privacy,
then students who potentially need assistance do not
receive it (and additionally, mediators do not fulfill their
responsibility to the adults who coordinate their
Complicating matters further, adults of goodwill disagree
as to when the drug-related danger line is crossed. For
some, smoking marijuana even once is considered
dangerous; for others, smoking marijuana every
weekend, if it
is done "responsibly" and does not effect other aspects
of a young person's life, is not cause for serious concern.
So how do student mediators decide where the line is?
The good news is, they don't have to. It is solely
responsibility of the adult coordinator to determine
whether information about parties should be divulged to
others outside of the mediation program.
It is also essential, however, that peer mediators feel
comfortable informing their coordinator about everything
they learn during sessions.
The task for coordinators, then, is two fold:
First, determine when information regarding students'
drug use should "leave" the program. If you are not
already knowledgeable about this issue, talk to those
who are. A general rule of thumb for whether a person's
drug use requires intervention is if a pattern of
that negatively affects the individual's life. Indicators of
such a pattern might include frequency of use, driving
under the influence, stealing, use at inappropriate times
(before babysitting, before school), losing jobs,
disrupting relationships, and so on.
Second, make sure that student mediators support
approach. Explain your thinking to mediators,
their questions and concerns, and ensure that they feel
comfortable with your approach to this issue. You might
begin by asking mediators if they have felt the need to
keep information from you in the past.
But here we come to an immutable law of peer
mediation: To operate a responsible and effective peer
mediation program, student mediators must be willing
tell adult coordinators everything they learn during
sessions, and especially potentially important
like drug use.
Ultimately, students who are not willing to abide by this
"law" should not be allowed to mediate for your program.
How have you handled the issue of drug-related
information in your peer mediation program?
respond: We can all learn from your experiences
Thanks to Randi Orpen, Peer Mediation Coordinator
Spanish teacher, Loren Baccari, Adjustment Counselor,
and the excellent peer mediators at Woburn High School,
Woburn, MA for both inspiring and helping me write
The statistics cited above came from the comprehensive 2002 report entitled "Monitoring the Future," and funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services.
|Response to Instant Conflicting
Below are a few of the comments we received in
response to last month's newsletter about Instant Messaging
and student conflict.
Thank you for the interesting article. I work as a
parent/child mediator and also teach peer mediation.
Time on the computer is a huge source of conflict with
many of our families. I sometimes see a connection to
when a teenager is feeling down and the amount of time
spent on line and I.M.
For example, a 15 year old girl is having a difficult time at
school with her friends around gossip and disagreements
with friends or teachers. She comes home feeling down
and spends most of the evening on I.M. with her friends
rehashing the day's events. Things get misinterpreted
and the conflict gets bigger and more people get
involved (especially if she has a long "buddy list"). She
goes to bed angry, goes to school in a bad mood, and
the cycle begins over again.
Conflicts with family members also result because of little
time spent together, disagreements about time spent on
the computer, and short tempers.
New conflicts for a new age.
Nashua Mediation Program
Nashua, NH USA
Hello my name is B.J. I read your article about IM and I
agree but I really do think that students will continue to
use it and talk behind people's backs no matter what
I am 18 years old and I am graduating from high school
this year and I actually went on homebound because of
how vicious and mean kids have become. It is awful in
school, nobody cares, and I have talked to so many
younger kids and adults and all of them agree that most
of the problems and harassment that was inflicted upon
them happened at High School. So many people have
been permanently scarred by kids' attitudes today.
People fight just to fight; they have gotten to the point
that they are numb to the violence around them, or even
the pain that they cause to others. I blame a lot of this
on television and the Internet. All you see in the movies
and on TV anymore is killing and guns and violence and
sex. After a while kids believe the only way to handle
their problems is through violence.
I am so disappointed in the world today. It is so awful,
people just don't care. Spend 2 weeks in a high school,
just walk around everyday and visit the classes, you will
be appalled at what you see and hear. Just have a
young pretty girl who looks 18 go in a school, then you
will really see the perverse nature of kids today.
Well I hope you read this and maybe it will open your
Connellsville, PA USA
Thank you for your newsletters. I look forward to
reading them! We have had a peer mediation group for
the past 8 years. We are a K-6 school. Our mediation
training starts in grade 3 and conflict
resolution classes begin in K.
For almost twenty years, School Mediation Associates
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