The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen Vol. VII, 3/08

in this issue

The Best Parents in Human History

ACR's Peer Mediation Standards

Richard Cohen Interested in Working Abroad in 2008

About Us

Newsletter Archive (and Index!) Available

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The School Mediator's Field Guide:
Prejudice, Sexual Harassment, Large Groups and Other Daily Challenges
by Richard Cohen
more info

Students Resolving Conflict:
Peer Mediation in Schools

by Richard Cohen
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Welcome to the March issue of The School Mediator.

This issues explores conflict resolution where, for the long term, it matters most: at home with our kids.

Please send along your thoughts and experiences. It is always wonderful to hear from you!

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

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  • The Best Parents in Human History

  • There is no escaping this fact: as a conflict resolution practitioner, I fail most regularly at home.

    I am not a bad father. In fact, I think I am pretty good.

    But for the largest volume of mistakes, missteps and outright failures, I need look no further than my relationship with my own kids.

    I yell at them to stop yelling; I lose my temper; I rely on the quick but often counterproductive tool of assigning "consequences;" I ask them, G-d forgive me, to wear a coat.

    Me (shivering inside our home): You can't walk to school in that t-shirt. It's 10 degrees outside!

    One of my kids: I wore this yesterday and I was fine.

    Me: But yesterday it was 45 degrees out.

    One of my kids: I don't care. This is what I am wearing.

    While it can be challenging to resolve conflicts with colleagues, clients, and students, for me, and I assume for many parents, the real crucible is at home.

    It is easy to understand why...

    · We are often with our kids around the clock (the supreme "ongoing relationship")

    · We are completely responsible for them

    · We love them unconditionally

    · Parenting confronts us with our own lingering childhood traumas and identity issues

    · Kids can exhibit an unnerving combination of extreme willfulness and utter absence of rationality (adults can exhibit this too!)

    And that's not to mention the challenges unique to contemporary parenting--the frenzied pace, the intrusive and often insidious media, the exaggerated sense that the world is "unsafe."

    Raising children is tough work, and until recently, I had assumed that parents were "better" in the past.

    But here is a most extraordinary fact: Even at my worst, I am likely a far better parent than 95% of parents throughout history.

    Childhood through the ages, it turns out, is largely a horrifying saga of parents' brutal treatment of their own offspring.

    I am not exaggerating:

    · Two millennia ago in Rome, infanticide was the "family planning method" of choice. The majority of Roman mothers "exposed"--a euphemism for killing by abandonment--at least one of their babies.

    · Most people throughout recorded history were "wet nursed" by strangers for the first two to four years of their lives. It was not uncommon for wet nurses to swaddle babies so tightly that they could not move, hang them up on hooks, and leave them unwashed and untouched for most of each day. (As recently as 1870, over 80% of Parisian babies of all social classes were wet nursed.)

    · Almost all children before the 18th century would be considered "battered" by today's standards. Beating one's children was simply best parenting practice. As one Medieval German manual recommended: "fear is good for putting the child in the mood to hear and to understand. A child cannot quickly forget what he has learned in fear."

    There appears to have been no "golden age" of parenting.

    Unless we are referring to today! The work of Lloyd de Mause, one of the founders of the field of Psychohistory, documents an evolutionary improvement in the way parents treat their offspring.

    Every parent has his or her individual failings. I certainly do, and I am committed to personal improvement as well as to doing my part to create a nurturing, child-friendly culture.

    Taken collectively, however, the current generation of parents are likely the best in human history, treating our kids with a level of compassion and respect that would have been inconceivable to our ancestors.

    In a startling take on the "political" nature of something so quintessentially "personal" as child raising, de Mause goes on to assert that "the ultimate source of all advances in human civilization--political, social, individual--can be found in the day-to-day innovations in child rearing invented by each caretaker and child in their developing relationship."

    In other words, the manner in which parents raise their children becomes the "blueprint for the way public and political life unfolds in any nation."

    According to psychohistorians, for example, the French and American Revolutions occurred at least in part because of the progressive approach to child rearing practiced by the parents of the individuals who waged those revolutions. Similarly, one reason Hitler found a receptive audience for his sadism and anti-Semitism was because his German contemporaries had been traumatized by their parents' extremely oppressive approach to child rearing.

    The way we resolve conflicts with our children can influence the course of history.

    To quote de Mause again: "Every abandonment, every betrayal, every hateful act towards children returns tenfold a few decades later upon the historical stage, while every empathetic act that helps a child become what he or she wants to become, every expression of love towards children, heals society and moves it in unexpected, wondrous new directions."

    Who knows: If my kids make it to adulthood without freezing their butts off, they might help lead the next American revolution.

    Please share your thoughts...

    (With love to my family)

    Much of the information in this article, and all the direct quotes, were taken from a wonderful book called Parenting for a Peaceful World by Robin Grille. Check it out!

    Parenting for a Peaceful World

  • ACR's Peer Mediation Standards
  • The Education Section of the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) is proud to present the completed "Recommended Standards for School-Based Peer Mediation Programs"

    This document is designed to establish model standards for peer mediator conduct as well as recommended standards for training (including professional development for adults), program evaluation, and program development & management.

    It is hoped that these standards will enhance quality and stimulate thought among youth and adult participants in peer mediation programs.

    Follow the link below to view the standards.

    Peer Mediation Standards

  • Richard Cohen Interested in Working Abroad in 2008
  • Richard Cohen is hoping to work outside the United States for a number of months between June 2008 and January 2009. If you or your organization would benefit from having Richard's expertise close at hand, please follow the link below.

    More info...

  • About Us
  • For twenty-four 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.

    Call us: 617-926-0994
    Email us:
    Web us:
    Post us: 134w Standish Road,
    Watertown, MA 02472 USA

    Copyright © 2008 School Mediation Associates. You may reproduce this article by including this copyright and, if reproducing it electronically, including a link to

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