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Don't just talk. Listen.

September 12, 2006|by STEPHANIE HUNTER

Daily arguments between a local teen and his father, were routine in the family life of one Hagerstown home. The boy, who lived with his dad but not his mom, became withdrawn and stopped talking to his dad, except when they argued. He began to do poorly at school.

Then the boy found a brochure about mediation and called to see what it was all about. He and his father went to mediation and talked about their arguments. During discussions, the boy said he was unhappy that his dad was spending too much time with a new girlfriend and didn't seem to care about how his son was feeling. Mediation helped them to develop a plan to work together as a family.

The boy's grades went back up, and he was happier now that he and his dad found solutions to their problems. They learned to listen to each other and began to communicate better.

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Mediation solves problems

I am a volunteer mediator with Washington County Community Mediation Center. I help resolve disputes.

Let me tell you a little about mediation. If you have a conflict with someone - parent, friend, sibling - that just doesn't go away, you can go into mediation and have two trained mediators help you resolve the conflict.

Mediation is a voluntary and confidential process. Mediators are neutral - they do not choose sides or decide who is right or wrong. Everything that is said in mediation stays "in the room" and is not discussed with others.

As a teen mediator, you work with an adult mediator and co-mediate cases involving other teens. It could be a parent and daughter or son or grandparents and grandchildren having trouble communicating. Unresolved problems could be about anything - curfew, responsibilities in the home, fighting, family arguments, communication, clothing, bedtime, school, friends, car usage, allowance, the way a teen dresses, adjustments to family separation, etc. All of these issues might be resolved in mediation.

Teen mediators who volunteer for the mediation center conduct mediations throughout Washington County at neutral sites such as the WCCMC office, a town hall, a library or the YMCA.

In order to become a mediator, you go through 50 hours of training. It sounds like a long time, but it didn't seem long to me. I learned how disputes can be resolved without shouting, fighting and arguing. I also met amazing people whom I now work with and am friends with.

During training, teen volunteers learn to help people with all kinds of conflicts. One thing mediators learn is that listening is more important than giving advice.

Mediators help people in disputes talk to each other to explain goals, gather information and come up with options that will resolve the problem. It is up to the people who are arguing to decide what will meet their needs as they work through the conflict.

In mediation, people who are arguing - not the mediators - control the decisions and the outcome. This is what makes the difference.

Once a teenager becomes a certified mediator, then he or she can help mediate cases involving other teens in conflict. I love being a mediator, because it helps our community. I am able to help people resolve conflict.

Get trained

WCCMC is holding a free basic 50-hour mediation training course in October, with an orientation class on Wednesday, Sept. 20. The course is scheduled for weekends and evenings, not interrupting school time.

This is a class where you learn to become a mediator. You learn how mediation can be used as an way to solve problems.

In return for taking the basic mediation training, you volunteer at least 75 hours within a year with WCCMC. You can fulfill this obligation in many ways, including helping to mediate cases.

Hours can be applied toward student service learning credits for high school graduation.

Tips for resolving disagreements

Do you have a recurring problem with a parent or a friend? Here are some ideas for resolving the issue:

Speak in a calm and respectful manner. Explain your point of view without yelling.

Listen to what the other person says. Ask for the other person's ideas. Double-check to be certain you understand what he or she is saying.

Notice how you speak and hold your body. Your gestures and tone of voice often show how you feel. It's not just your words.

Express what you need. Avoid telling the other person what they should and should not do.

Be positive and commit to resolving the issue. If you cannot make progress, consider mediation.

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