Premeditated Mediation - Christian Clark
In the middle of our nation lies my former grade school, Osage Upper Elementary, and possibly the foundation for a practical solution for addressing conditions that could lead to worsening mental health issues, gun violence, and suicide. For being a small, midwestern city in Missouri, we had progressive solutions to the aforementioned problems, along with the comparatively trivial, in the form of a group of students called “Peer Mediators.” The mediators would oversee a conflict between students privately and confidentially. If you had a problem with someone they would hear both sides and give their honest opinion on what to do about it, coming up with a “compromise”. Peer mediators were generally well-liked and class leaders. They were “peers” that would “mediate” other peers. The important part to know is that while selected by faculty, they were not in the room and the mediators did not have the ability to administer punishment or offer any kind of negative action. The mediators and the conflicting students would work together, forming a compromise in which both parties were heard and did not face a formal punishment like going to the principal's office. That was then, around the turn of the century, this is now.
Almost 20 years later; seeing the latest school shootings, suicide rates among teens, and the focus on gun control with so little focus on mental health comparatively had me thinking. Why not have a program like that in place everywhere? What if instead of saying, ”I always thought that kid was crazy” or “I knew he’d do it” when it’s too late, someone took them to a peer mediation session? Not to poke at him or her like an animal but to see where their head is at. Talk to them with the intention of getting to the root of why they feel a certain way, if any kind of way at all. Kids can understand kids better than adults do sometimes. Having trusted peers to open up to may be the answer, or at least the start of one. The students know what’s going on within themselves just as much as the faculty when it comes to what’s being said to whom and when. This won't stop all violence or mental health issues but it opens the door to normalizing open communication about conversation about ideas that make us uncomfortable. Addressing behavior issues and dealing with emotions in a controlled setting at a young age could make high school students confident to approach one of their peers for help instead of looking to take their frustrations out on others or becoming another statistic.
When looking at the numbers it's best to take a seat. They are staggering. If these aren't a rallying cry for the nation to work together to solve, I don't know what is.These aren't just numbers, they are our children, our nation’s future. In a 2021 study the Center for Disease Control, (CDC), found that, “29% of high school students experienced poor mental health during the past 30 days.” Being a teenager is a trying time but the numbers are even worse for our friends and family in the LBGTQ+ community, the CDC also states: “Nearly half (45%) of LGBQ+ students in 2021 seriously considered attempting suicide—far more than heterosexual students.” The numbers are only going up, requiring a long term solution with short term implementation. Oh, one last thing, keep it cost effective because of budget cuts.
There are close to 100,000 public schools in the United States not including colleges. The average cost per student is $12,300 (Digest of Educational Statistics). That number too, is only going up from here and that shouldn’t also be the same with school shootings or adolescent suicides. Conversely only 5% of these public schools have a program like peer mediation. More schools should have a system like this in place for a number of reasons; no substantial costs for the schools, it's cheap, and the students are already there and willing. Like previously stated, the kids are typically the overachieving type. Parents and the school actually save money by not having faculty deal with the lesser offenses in which a suspension, detention, or Saturday school would be handed out. Most importantly the punishment would be given WITHOUT actually having the type of conversation needed. No compromise was met, just a punishment. Can kids really solve this issue effectively? Studies such as this one by Procedia Behavioral and Health Sciences found that, “out of 253 mediation sessions; 94.9% resulted in resolution and 5.1% in no-resolution.” No missing school, no violence, no overtime paid to the staff for hours “detaining” our children. I wonder, “what kind of mentality could that engrain on a young person.” But that is for another day. I encourage everyone to do a little research as to how effective these are because they are truly unbelievable.
All I'm saying is, hear me out, why not instead of training the underpaid teacher to shoot a mentally unstable human, training these students that want to help with real life problems that their peers are going through? Which one sounds like a better investment? I thought so. With 2,051 teens aging between 15-19 committing suicide (CDC), the mental health card really needs to be in play. A teenager that either wants to kill themselves or everyone is not someone that should be left alone to their thoughts without having a positive influence of a peer or mediator. That’s why these outstanding students are so valuable to their schools. They take pride in helping the rest of the student body. So when one of their peers falls victim to the 29% of youth that struggles with mental health, it could be something that they have gone through or would understand first hand. When someone makes a Facebook or Instagram post about having a gun and ill intentions, or just some off the wall rhetoric, another student can take notice and take him to peer mediation to try to understand what they have going on in their personal life. They are not a replacement for proper medical or legal authority once it reaches that stage. The objective is to identify, sympathize, and diffuse the behavior before it gets that far. Like previously stated, 80 PERCENT of the time it results in a ONE meeting compromise. Whether they exchange numbers or set up times to meet with the other students to just be friends they solve it without involving any faculty or even more importantly the police one way or another. This is important especially for the underprivileged because once labeled a troublemaker it is tough to shake and they will be profiled and that has emotional repercussions as well. It’s worth mentioning that while no faculty is in the meeting, they are close enough to assist if anything were to happen. In other words, they are not unsupervised.
It’s not always going to be pretty, getting called out isn’t fun and neither is being the one calling them out. And if the meeting gets heated or out of control the mediators can report the wild behavior to the correct authority. I think I would rather be called a snitch, letting the correct person know that one of my peers was talking about killing themselves, or anybody else for that matter. Joking around is one thing, but once it takes on any tones of reality I would definitely pull them aside and talk about it in a controlled environment of our peers no matter how much they didn’t like it. The whole stigma of being a snitch doesn’t even pertain to this format, it’s just making a point to talk to them like you would anybody else in your life going through some things.
Even if peer mediation was successful only half of the time, the results would be outstanding. That's with no call to parents, no parents picking up their child from detention, no kids walking home from detention because they missed the bus so no time to think about how pissed off they are at the school or the person who got them in trouble. Not arbitrarily handing out punishment for how they acted or felt when an adult didn’t have time to listen. Too often we see the cycle of acting out to garner attention resulting in punishment with no emotional conversation. Why would the behavior change? How often do we take inventory of the emotional states of our peers? The retaliatory behaviors only get more and more aggressive, until it boils over giving us the last few years. It's time to turn down the heat and reapproach the way we educate and support the youth.
The name says it all. It’s “peer mediation” which would definitely make some changes for the better and mitigate some of these problems.This is not a fool proof method, it is simply another measure of the student population’s mental health status and a countermeasure to an array of mental health issues.. They’re students first, mediators secondly, not clinical psychologists. Unfortunately there will be some things overlooked and some people may not take it seriously. Times are changing faster than ever, and you can’t change the 2nd amendment tomorrow but, you can implement one of these programs in one day. I’m not saying this is the answer but it is a cost efficient way proven to resolve interpersonal conflict, weed out would-be shooters and kids battling depression and possibly suicidal thoughts before the damage is done. Further research is warranted as to how the pressure of being a mediator affects the student, how an unresolved session affects the mediated, and any other byproduct of the program. That being said, it’s important to note that not all programs and demographics are the same.Different cities around the country have a unique set of emotional and social stressors and should be taken into consideration. The archaic solution of the social issues discussed here has utilized a broken system, stuck in a negative feedback loop for years. There is hope to be had nonetheless! Peer mediators allow the emotionally distressed to bend without breaking. The program can be tailored to what the biggest problems at the time or whatever the students are going through because the students are the ones running it!
Sure you could look at it adversely and think that someone getting accused of having issues would cause a freak out. Maybe even a reason for kids to act out more knowing the lack of punishment and not take it seriously. But the whole idea is to help us, help and understand each other while we develop the skills we need in everyday life when faced with problems. It will take time and courage on everyone’s part but at least you’ll have a generation of people who can talk things out and take criticism from their peers. Understanding and cooperation can go a long way with anything and anybody. It’s time we play the LONG TERM game instead of the “instant gratification” that society has caved into time and time again. I’ll say it one more time for good measure...ABOVE AN 80% SUCCESS RATE in which the REASON FOR MEDIATION was RESOLVED AMONGST THE STUDENTS BY THEMSELVES. No extra cost to the schools, just the time and courage of the students that are trying to stay safe at their place to grow and learn. Thank you to the mediators at Osage Upper Elementary and the ones at all other schools who put judgements aside and use their brains to help their peers going through an experience different than their own. Thank you for taking the time to read this. If you or a loved one has been affected by any of these tragic events I want to say I am sorry for your suffering.
CDC. “Mental Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 Feb. 2023, https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/mental-health/index.htm.
Stomfay-Stitz, A. M. (1994). Conflict resolution and peer mediation: pathways to safer schools. Childhood Education, 70(5), 279+. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A15691633/AONE?u=anon~cb8048fe&sid=googleScholar&xid=bd8715c5
“YRBSS Data Summary & Trends.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 Feb. 2023, https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/yrbs_data_summary_and_trends.htm.