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Excerpted from Chapter 7: Mediating Conflicts Between Students and Their Parents in The School Mediator's Field Guide: Prejudice, Sexual Harassment, Large Groups and Other Daily Challenges by Richard Cohen


Why Offer Student-Parent Mediation at School?

Parent-child (or more accurately, parent-teen) mediation programs share school-based mediation's roots in the community mediation movement. As a result, the programs share a similar design: Coordinators conduct intake interviews, supervise sessions, and follow up on cases, and a diverse pool of volunteer co-mediators is used to mediate. Even the parent-teen mediation process is virtually identical to the one utilized by school mediators.

Schools have generally been reluctant to become involved in family conflicts, understanding their mission to be the education of children, not families. But as the effects of a long list of social problems spill into the classroom, increasing numbers of educators understand that supporting a student's family and community furthers the goal of educating the student. Though still uncommon, student-parent mediation services, offered at school, can be one such method of support.

For many reasons, schools are uniquely suited to provide mediation services to parents and their adolescent children. Consider:

  • School is one of the central issues over which parents and teenagers disagree. Grades, attendance, behavior, homework, attitude, tardiness: These education-related issues are all high on the list of subjects that create conflict at home.
  • School personnel may have already won students' trust. Young people spend more time at school than any other place except their homes. With so much time to interact with students (and to observe them interacting with peers and adults) perceptive educators come to know their charges quite well. Some teachers, held in high esteem and trusted by students, hear all about their students' difficulties at home. These educators can serve as a bridge between parent and teen and either assist them directly or help them identify additional resources.
  • Schools have a natural alliance with parents. Educators and parents have the same fundamental goal for students: the best education possible. As such, teachers' and parents' concerns often overlap. Both want to see students come to school on time, do their homework, behave appropriately and so on. Because parents already look to schools for support with education related issues, they may be more likely to utilize school-based services than if they are referred to a separate agency.
  • School issues provide a "hook" to get families into mediation. Barring a crisis, concerns about privacy and trust, lack of information and resources, and simple habit all combine to prevent most families from seeking outside assistance for their internal conflicts. Behavior problems or academic difficulties at school provide a focus that can get parents and children in the mediator's office. Once there, they may avail themselves of the opportunity to discuss other, chronic difficulties, often for the first time.
  • Schools with effective peer mediation programs already have most of the resources needed to conduct student-parent mediation sessions. Not only do these schools have coordinators, mediators, offices, etc., but students and parents may be familiar with mediation from the peer mediation program's outreach efforts. Advanced training for mediators and some logistical modifications are often the only additions necessary to enable school-based mediators to conduct parent-teen mediation sessions.
  • Schools have easy access to the people students respect most: their peers! Peer pressure is tremendous during adolescence. Teenagers look to their peers to determine not only what to wear, but what to think and how to behave. School mediation programs use this to their advantage and turn what is commonly a negative influence into a positive force. The same can be accomplished by including a student co-mediator in parent-teen sessions. With additional training in adolescent issues and family dynamics, student mediators are often able to build trust with teenage parties more readily than adult mediators. And having a student and an adult co-mediate demonstrates for families that "young and old" can get along.