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Teenagers Mediate Problems for Peers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sitting between two feuding teenagers, Lukas Bridgeman, a seventh-grader at Carpinteria Middle School, set a few ground rules.

“No name-calling and no put-downs,” he said. “Stay in your chair. No physical fighting.”

With those instructions, Lukas--a peer mediator at his school--began his work. The problem was, Sara heard from a friend that Jessica was spreading rumors about her.

“The person you heard about the rumors from, is she a reliable source?” the 12-year-old mediator asked Brenda Beas, a Lennox Middle School eighth-grader playing Sara. After a few minutes of questions and discussion, the mediation ended successfully--with the girls signing a contract to get along.

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The simulation was intended to demonstrate successful peer mediation to teenagers interested in resolving such conflicts. It was presented to about 200 local students from middle and high schools attending a youth conference Wednesday at Cal State L.A.

Most of the work by student mediators--or peacemakers, as they call themselves--deals with arguments among friends, relationship troubles and misunderstandings caused by rumors. The problems may seem trivial, but they can easily end in violence, said Anne McGinn, chairwoman of the nonprofit Southern California Mediation Assn., which organized the conference.

“The first impulse for young people these days is to fight,” she said.

Peer mediation is intended to prevent physical fights by having the parties talk out their problems with the help of another young person, she said. It works because “kids can talk to each other better,” she said.

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Lukas’ strategy in the demonstration was simple. “I was trying to get them to decide what to do instead of deciding for them,” he said, “and to have them see each other’s point of view.”

The two girls agreed that relying on rumors was no way to maintain a relationship.

Training students to mediate disputes has become more popular in schools throughout California in the past decade, said Phyllis Steinberg, a board member of the Southern California Mediation Assn.

At a conference workshop, two seventh-graders learned a bit of aikido, a nonviolent form of martial arts.

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Nicole Miller, 12, of Sierra Vista Junior High School stood as her classmate Amanda Grossman, 13, pushed her. Nicole didn’t respond and instead relaxed her body. That, she said, made her feel both physically and mentally stronger.

“In many martial arts you learn to strike back,” aikido instructor Larry Novick told the students. “In aikido, you learn to blend with the other person.”

The workshop was one of several designed to help mediators learn to handle conflicts without violence.

Nicole Napoleone, 11, a peer mediator at Carpinteria Middle School, started working with her parents during their arguments. “I wanted to help them,” she said. “I told them to talk it out.” Now she uses her training on classmates.

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Mediating requires patience, good listening skills and understanding, Nicole said.

Jason Massaband, 17, has been a mediator for the past three years at Beverly Hills High School.

“There are a lot of problems at our school,” he said. “With mediation, we get some of the problems to surface so we can get to them before they get worse.”


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