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Youth Initiative and Social Media

Monday, July 1, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Lori Dieckman
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Youth Initiative and Social Media

 

By:  Jessica Boulanger, Program Manager at the Middlesex Mediation Center

 

The Middlesex Community College Law Center is a non-profit organization working in cooperation with and funded by Middlesex Community College, the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General, the Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration, the Trial Court of the Commonwealth, the City of Lowell School Department, the Greater Lowell Bar Association, and the Greater Lowell Health Alliance. Serving a large and diverse population spread over parts of three counties, the Center provides free mediation and conciliation services addressing a range of disputes, both inside and outside of court. One of its longest running services is the Lowell School Department’s Peer Mediation Program, led the Law Center’s Yvette Cheeks, a respected mediator of many years’ experience.

 

The Peer Mediation Program was started by our office in 1989 in the hope of helping students, as well as faculty and staff, deal with disputes by devising their own resolutions, and has since then been a consistent success benefiting the schools and the wider community. Begun at Lowell High School, the program recently expanded to Lowell’s Sullivan Middle School. Each year the program trains interested students in both schools in the essentials of mediation, enabling them to become Peer Mediators.  The Peer Mediators handle a range of cases arising in their schools, under the supervision of Ms. Cheeks or other experienced Law Center mediators. Providing Peer Mediators with the training and an understanding of the responsibilities that come with being a mediator not only gives them tools they need to handle mediations, but also skills that can be used at home, with friends, at work and other settings, in the hope that those tools will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

 

With the explosive growth of the internet, and the ability to remain anonymous behind a screen, too many children and teens have lost - or perhaps never acquired - the ability to initiate and carry on conversations with one another, the ability to communicate, and thus to resolve problems via respectful, open and honest discussion. As we often hear in the schools we work with, many disputes our Center and the Peer Mediation Program handle not only start because of a social media post but could have been avoided altogether if the parties had been able to discuss the matter face-to-face. Hobbled by limited communication skills, intended messages are often lost in translation, lost in interpretation, or lost in the meaning of a posted picture. Add the sense of power and safety provided by the anonymous screen, and a seemingly small misunderstanding can mushroom into a significant argument involving many more people than it started with.

 

 But being able to bring the students to the table and enabling them to verbally and directly communicate and ultimately to understand one another regarding an on-line post and the actual intended meaning behind the post, consistently proves helpful to all concerned. Being able to understand another person’s point of view, putting themselves in someone else’s shoes is crucial to the resolution of arguments.

 

 In order to get to that point, children and teenagers need guidance, and need to acquire the skill to communicate directly and personally with others. More often than not, by the end of the mediation process, students realize that their disputes had grown much bigger than they should have.  More often than not, those students leave the mediation table not only satisfied with the outcome of the process, but also friendly with the other party. That is what our program aims for, what we thrive on, what we are honored to watch. Not only that the argument was resolved, but also the growth of those students when leaving the mediation table, the satisfaction on their faces of having been able to verbally discuss and resolve problems. That is our goal.  We know that those students, and the Peer Mediators assisting them, have begun to understand the meaning of communication and the benefits of face-to-face conversation, and are acquiring the ability to use those skills in the future. That is what we thrive on.

 

 Understanding the growing social media problem has been enlightening to our mediators, as we are now more capable of understanding and handling disputes where social media is involved. But mediating such disputes is not our only goal. Our office wants to and has been involved with informing the community, including children and teenagers, of the potential risks of misuse of social media.

 

 Prevention is what we also aim for. If information is provided and discussed, if an understanding of the misconceptions that could arise from a social media post are understood, the frequency of such disputes will be lower. To that end, our office has created several brochures, conducts presentations and forums, and takes the time to answer questions about the various ways disputes can be resolved if the parties are willing. But our office also understands that the information may not always be heard by the students, as they more often than not communicate mostly through social media. Therefore, our office has been working on ways to reach the students, to communicate with them through social media, hoping that they will read and hear the information we will be providing them with. Our office is also planning on utilizing social media to teach the student body on how to communicate better while using those platforms, showing them with our social media posts how some information can be clearly written while some others may not be. Our office hopes that we will be up and running with our social media platforms by September 2019. But in the meantime, if you have questions relating to this issue or any other disputes you may have, or would like the MCC Law Center to present and/or send you material, please feel free to contact our office at (978) 656-3342, or via email at lawcenter@middlesex.mass.edu.


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