By Janice Son
Navigating through high school is arguably one of the most challenging life stages for adolescents. The high school student’s academic career generally consists of scouting for attractions, looking for friends, carefully watching for foes, and of course, managing his or her workload. With the perpetuating force of the digital age, students have the opportunity to utilize tools which can extend their perception of reality and communication in ways that we could only dream of.
However, with the birth of technology/social media, high school students often encounter bullying in the cyber world, which can have negative effects on their reality. As a peer mediation coordinator for King Drew High School, I have mediated several cases that address issues such as bullying/cyber-bullying and various relationship entanglements. I have observed through these mediation sessions that a common thread throughout is the communication breakdown that threatens each student’s fragile sense of identity and how others perceive him or her. The peer mediation program at King Drew High School provides a student-facilitated safe-space for disputants to express their relational woes with one another.
One particular case that stands out is a student-referred cyber bully and sexual harassment case. In the spirit of confidentiality, I will use fictitious names for the student participants. The two disputants were Briana, an African-American female, and Devon, an African-American male. Two peer mediators, who were carefully selected based on relevant experience, began the process with the introductions and then stated purpose of the mediation session. A list of ground rules were set and the disputants were assured that the peer mediators would maintain neutrality and honor confidentiality.
After this introduction, Briana began by sharing her version of the situation. She stated that she and Devon had been close friends. One day on Facebook, she instant-messaged Devon “hey,” an informal greeting for, “how are you.” His response was a series of inappropriate comments, which triggered negative emotions for Briana. When Briana attended school the next day, she discovered that several other girls had experienced the same situation. The problem escalated to a campus-wide flurry of rumors, gossip, and threats towards Devon. While Briana was speaking, I noticed evidence of self-mutilation, which raised red flags and concerns (I will come back to this in a moment).
One of the peer mediators continued the process by asking Devon for his side of the story. He stated that his Facebook account was “hacked” or taken over by an unidentifiable “someone.” After 30 minutes of diligent questioning and probing by the peer mediators, we uncovered that the “hackers” were, in fact, Devon’s friends. At this point, Devon apologized for his friends’ “immature” behavior and assured Briana that he did not mean any harm. He also promised that he would not allow his friends to make any remarks towards her in that manner in the future. Briana responded by acknowledging that he was not solely responsible for his friend’s behavior and accepted his apology. This kind of conversation between them could have only occurred through a supportive environment like mediation.
In this particular peer mediation case, we were not only able to clarify the situation and encourage a peaceable resolution between Briana and Devon, but we were also able to identify hidden “cutting” issues and get Briana the help that she needs. Briana is now working closely with her counselor to identify her internal struggles along with following a set plan that will help coach her through her emotions.
The purpose for this article is not to chastise social media sites, but to highlight external factors that influence the educational space. Ultimately, peer mediation provides students with the option to see heated situations from a neutral perspective, provides communication tools, such as using “I” statements, and allows for a period of reflection. My hope for the next year is to create more workshops to help promote and equip students with better communication tools to navigate high school with healthier relationships..