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Teens in mediation

October 14, 2005|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

tiffanya@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - The Washington County Mediation Center usually trains adults to be certified mediators, but four teenagers are now training to become specialists in resolving conflicts.

Escalating violence among young people and the absence of teen mediators at schools prompted the Washington County Mediation Center, part of the Community Action Council, to start training younger mediators this year, said Valerie Harper, the program's director.

Once certified, teens will be considered as experts in conflict resolution. They will mediate conflicts involving their peers and will work alongside adult mediators in other disputes.

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They are expected to receive their certificates this winter after their training ends, Harper said.

The teens - three sophomores and one eighth-grader - had different reasons for volunteering for the training. But they agreed that wearing the "problem solver" label had its setbacks.

"At first, I didn't want to do it," said Calli McBride, a 15-year-old student at Hancock Middle-Senior High School. "I didn't want to be a mediator. I thought, 'What if people laugh at me?' I'm not worried about that now."

In a way, being a mediator means being singled out as the person who stands up for others and goes against what's popular, Calli said.

She said those were things most teens would want to do.

"They just don't want to do it by themselves," she said.

Ben Walzl, 15, of Smithsburg High School, said without being known as a peer mediator, he doubted if he would stand up for another student who was being bullied.

"I'd probably get picked on for it by the same (bully)," Ben said.

The teens said there was still a need for peer mediation.

"You can't go throughout the day without somebody calling you a name or smacking you," said Stephanie Hunter, a 15-year-old sophomore at Williamsport High School. "It's like there are no boundaries. It's wrong.

"A school counselor just isn't going to do it," she said. "They might give you a suspension, but that's not good enough."

Calli said young mediators also are helpful in disputes between parents and teens.

"I would never want to go to mediation if it was two adults against me and my mom," Calli said.

Meliegha Dagenhart, 13, said her friends at Western Heights Middle School have been coming to her for advice now that they know she's training to be a mediator.

Ben said the training has made him a better listener. Sometimes during disputes, Ben said he bites the sides of his mouth to keep from opening his mouth and breaking his neutral stance.

"You can think it all you want," he said. "You just can't show it."

Stephanie said the program has helped her realize the importance of family.

"By helping other people, they can have a relationship with their aunts and uncles so that they don't have to rely on themselves for everything," she said.

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