Don’t Rely on Peer Mediation to Resolve Bullying in Schools

As students are settling into their school routine, some may not be as settled. School can be a place where they experience conflict and bullying. One way schools can equip students with the skills to address conflict is through peer mediation. Conflict can be a part of many aspects in a student’s day. By incorporating peer mediation onto a campus, schools are preparing students for real-life scenarios, teaching them valuable skills that will transcend into many parts of their life, and giving them the power to solve problems. While peer mediation is designed to resolve conflicts, it’s best practice to not use it with problems tied to bullying. Bullying is not a conflict and preventing bullying in schools should be handled through a separate program intended to identify, target and treat the problem.

How Peer Mediation Helps Schools

Peer mediation programs train identified students as neutral third parties to intervene and assist other students in the resolution and management of interpersonal disputes. Oakland Mediation Center (OMC) has trained schools and students for two decades using its peer mediation program. OMC uses Peers Making Peace, a school-based peer mediation program that teaches students from kindergarten to high school how to handle conflicts using a variety of strategies. The program is recognized by organizations across the country. OMC is a leading entity in Michigan credentialed to train school staff in the program.

When a school decides it wants to incorporate peer mediation, certified trained mediators and trainers visit the school to train teachers and staff. Those school officials then select a group of students who represent the school community to serve as trained peer mediators on their campus. Between the trained students and staff, the school has the ability to maintain and continue the program for years to come. OMC’s Peers Making Peace program is completely sustainable.

With peer mediation, schools have a sense of community and the opportunity to assist with problem solving. As students learn and develop, they gain the skills to solve issues before they escalate and prevent future conflicts from happening. In addition, peer mediation helps students gain life, communication and conflict management skills. According to OMC research, schools with a peer mediation programs saw:

·       73 percent drop in expulsions.

·       about 90 percent drop in assaults.

·       near 58 percent drop in discipline referrals.

·       19 percent increase in standardized test scores.

Peer mediation programs are designed to teach students how to handle conflict, the different dimensions of conflict, what outcomes can and should look like, and how to use exercises to teach their peers. 

Bullying is Not a Conflict

While bullying is a problem often happening with school-aged children, on or off campus, it should not be treated with peer mediation. Bullying is a form of physical and/or psychological violence and victimization. It consists of a power and control dynamic. In bullying situations, where there is a victim, it is best to not put that victim in a situation where they can be revictimized by a perpetrator.

There are a few myths when it comes to resolving and preventing bullying. One is that bullying is the same thing as a conflict. This is false because in bullying, there is an imbalance of power and often repeated over a period of time. Another myth is that most bullying is physical. While some bullying may be physical violence, it can also be verbal bullying or in the form of social isolation. And lastly, some school leaders think a zero-tolerance bullying policy is the best form of action. While this may seem like the right step, OMC’s experience and research shows a better practice is to change the climate in a school, address it with school staff and parents, and give students the resources on how to identify, handle and prevent bullying.  

New Research on Bullying

According to StopBullying.gov, which is managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS), research around bullying is growing and explains the effects of the complex issue. Consider the following statistics on bullying from research completed in the last few years:

·       About 20 percent of students ages 12 to 18 experience bullying. (2017 School Crime Supplement, National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice)

·       About 30 percent of young people surveyed admit to bullying others. (StopBullying.gov)

·       More than 70 percent of students say they’ve seen bullying in their schools. (StopBullying.gov)

·       About 15 percent of high school students were electronically bullied in the 12 months before being surveyed. (Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

·       Most bullying happens in middle school and the most common types are verbal and social bullying. (StopBullying.gov)

StopBullying.gov defines the core elements of bullying as “unwanted aggressive behavior; observed or perceived power imbalance; and repetition of behaviors or high likelihood of repetition.”

The Worst State for Bullying

In 2016, the Detroit Free Press reported Michigan was the worst state in the country for bullying. In order to address this chronic issue, OMC implements a separate training program to teach practices to prevent bullying for students in kindergarten through high school. The center uses the internationally renowned Olweus Bullying Prevention Program in Michigan area schools for the last 15 years. This program is shown to reduce student reported bullying incidents by 50 percent.

Similar to a peer mediation program, certified trainers teach a sustainable program where they focus on school staff and then staff run the program with students. Trainers check in with the school once a month for a year to assist with struggles and challenges, and give applicable guidance. This program in schools has been very successful and the feedback from schools and parents is ultimately positive.

Peer mediation is proven to help young people learn how to problem solve to prevent more conflicts from happening. While it does offer a great toolset to deal with multiple types of conflict, it’s not a match for issues of bullying. That’s why separate programs should be used to address both conflict and bullying to better the nation’s schools by creating an environment for learning.

                        author

Charity Burke

Charity Burke is the Executive Director of Oakland Mediation Center. In her 22 years of multi-state experience in the field of mediation, Charity has mediated hundreds of cases including personal injury, special education, pre and post judgment divorce, adult/child guardianship, EEOC, civil rights, general civil matters, landlord/tenant, and employment. She’s… MORE >

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