The Danish Centre for Conflict Resolution has, in many ways, been pioneers in the field of youths and conflict. Today we offer educations and tailor-made courses directed at people who work with youths.
The founding principle behind the work we have done within this field is based on the concepts of restorative justice.
The text below is on the subject of youth-mediation, crime prevention, conflict resolution in a school context and many more aspects of our work with youths and conflicts.
One of the focal points for the Danish Centre for Conflict Resolution in the work with youths has been mediation. In order to establish a common point of reference, I will present some of the key concepts regarding mediation and youths as used by the Danish Centre for Conflict Resolution.
Theoretically, the concept of mediation has been divided into three separate entities: Youth-mediation, School-mediation and Student to Student mediation. The differences between these divisions are purely in regards to the context in which they are used- the process itself is the same in all three instances.
- Youth-mediation is directed at people who work with youths, whether it be in a social services aspect, in youth-clubs, schools, police or any other setting. The aim of the education of Youth-mediators is to give the participants the knowledge, tools, training and competences needed in order to conduct mediation between children or young adults.
- School-mediation means that a school implements the principles of conflict resolution and mediation in all aspects of the organization, in such a way that it becomes a part of the school-culture and a way of thought on the school. This means that management, teachers, students and in some cases even parents are introduced to the tools and concepts of mediation and conflict resolution.
- Student to Student mediation is an element of school-mediation and means that it is students who act as mediators in conflicts between To achieve this, one or more members of faculty are trained in mediation and in teaching mediation techniques. They in turn teach a group of older students, who then become equipped to mediate between students in case of conflicts. The student mediators are never left without guidance as an adult must always be available should a student mediator be facing a situation he or she feels is unmanageable.
One of the main goals of conflict resolution in a youth setting is to give youths their conflicts back. There is a tendency in society to run away from responsibility. We abandon friendships, relationships, schools and jobs when faced with conflicts we are unable to resolve. We move across country, change schools, find new jobs or distance ourselves from the responsibility by bringing in an expert to deal with the problem at hand, e.g. a lawyer, teacher or social worker. But in order to best solve a conflict we have to face it and assume responsibility for it. What this means, is that they have to feel like they own the conflict in order to be given the opportunity to act in concordance with their feelings and needs, and in collaboration with the other party, find a long-term solution. Youth-mediation is an excellent tool in the efforts to achieve this goal; however, it is not to be used without ethical consideration.
Mediation as an alternative to traditional forms of sanction
One of the areas where youth-mediation can be used, is as an alternative to traditional forms of sanctions, in cases where the parties involved are under the age of criminal responsibility (currently 14 years of age). The mediation then takes the form of a Conflict Counsel, as it is called in the restorative justice terminology. However, when one begins to consider using mediation or Conflict Counsel as an alternative to sanctions one is in danger of breaching one of the fundamental principles of mediation: that both parties participate willingly. It is important to stress that any mediation must adhere to the principle of voluntary participation.
What is needed, then, in order to get both parties to agree to this alternative to traditional sanction is information. It is the mediator’s prime objective, before the mediation, to inform both parties what mediation is. If a young person is well informed and knows what he or she is getting into they are much more likely to agree to mediation. It is furthermore important that parents support the alternative and help the youth reach the right decision regarding participation in mediation.
It is clear, that there are several dilemmas that one must take into account in regards to the use of mediation or Conflict Counsel as an alternative means for handling youth conflicts. But by keeping a focus on the ethical considerations, the potential benefits, in terms of rectifying that which has happened and the prevention of new such violent acts, makes mediation an important tool in the toolbox when dealing with youth conflicts.
What makes mediation special is that it is confidential and based on voluntary participation. A third person is brought in to help the parties find a solution which both find satisfactory. In cases regarding violence and assault, the goal of mediation is to reach a mutual understanding on the why’s and how’s. This is often the first time a young adult is confronted directly with the consequences that their actions have for others. They stand face to face with the victim and are forced to assume responsibility for their actions. It is in the meeting between the involved parties that the conflict is resolved. It is the mediator’s job to, respectfully, help both parties talk openly about the incident and come to an agreement about the future without interference or moralization.
The question remains, whether or not mediation actually has any crime preventing effect. If one turns to the Danish Ministry of Social Affairs and the Danish Counsel for Criminal Prevention’s project on mediation in the 12-15 year old demographic called “Hva’ har du gang i?” (What do you think you’re doing?), the results are clear:
The youths, who have gone through mediation, do not find themselves in the same conflict again. This is true for the youths who had, what is called normal grievances, like conflicts among girls, and the youths who were already known in the local community for being part of more serious conflicts, violence and crime. Basically everyone changed their behavior for the better. Those, who didn’t exactly become friends, learned to get along and respect each other. The experiences from this project indicates that conflict mediation strengthens the youth’s social and emotional competences and betters their ability to act, and have influence upon, their own lives, as well as contributing towards stopping destructive behavior .
(Author’s translation, Hva’ har du gang i? Rapport fra projekt ‘Konfliktmægling for 12-15 årige’ )
Much has happened since the Danish Centre for Conflict Resolution, in the years 1996-99 were involved with two schools’ efforts to develop a peaceful conflict resolving environment. The basic elements of these projects have since been expanded into a wider scope and have now become a wide range of offers directed at youth clubs, schools, law enforcement agencies, social institutions and individuals working with youths and conflicts.
One important aspect of conflict resolution and mediation in regards to youths is the necessity for differentiation between conflicts and bullying. These two aspects of school life and the lives of youths in general, are often mixed up, but in order to deal with each one appropriately it is necessary to differentiate. By separating and clarifying the differences and the similarities of the two concepts, one can make a targeted effort on both fighting bullying and developing a healthy conflict managing culture in schools and other institutions.
The definitions of bullying and conflict are as follows:
- Bullying is a group´s systematical persecution or exclusion of an
individual in a social situation, wherein the person being bullied is an
- Conflict is a discrepancy creating tension within and between people
The differences between bullying and conflict can be summed up as such:
|Both positive and negative aspects||Only negative aspects|
|Part of ordinary human life||Not a part of ordinary human life|
|Destructive conflicts are fueled by low tolerance||Originates in environments characterized by low tolerance|
|Discrepancies and tensions between parties||Seldom characterized by direct conflict between those who bully and the person being bullied|
|A conflict is a sign that the parties have something in common- the object of the conflict||The group indicates that they have nothing in common with the person
|Occurs in both voluntary and involuntary communities. Conflict cannot and should not be prevented. Escalation can be
anticipated and dealt with by, for instance, mediation
|Occurs only in involuntary communities.
Bullying can and should be prevented
|Often relatively asymmetrical||Absolute asymmetrical|
|Can involve physical or psychological assault||Is an assault within a determined power structure of the group|
There is a big difference between being the victim of bullying and being one part of a conflict. Even though there can be a weak and a strong party in a conflict, it is by no means the same as being the victim of continued persecution and exclusion as is the case with bullying. The close affinity between bullying and assault necessitates that the person who intervenes does so with the intention to protect the person who cannot defend or protect him or herself, the victim. Because of this necessity for defending and protecting the victim it is impossible to act in accordance with the basic principles of mediation which states that any mediation must be voluntary for both parties and facilitated by an impartial mediator. This does not mean, however, that the tradition for constructive dialogue and non-retaliation cannot be used in bully-intervention, or that mediation and conflict resolution cannot be part of a long term solution to the underlying problems causing bullying.
Several actions can be taken in order to effectively combat bullying and simultaneously develop a sensible culture regarding conflict resolution and mediation:
- Incorporate conflict managing strategies and anti-bullying strategies in
the goals for the school’s plan for a good environment. Focus on the
continued work done in each class.
- Anti-bullying: Prevention, readiness and follow-up.
- Develop a conflict managing strategy. Rules for interaction, education
on all levels regarding conflict resolution, seize any conflict and deal
with them constructively and incorporate mediation.
- Make sure there are qualified people to deal with issues within the two
“disciplines”: Conflict resolution and Anti-bullying. It is time and
money well spent as both “disciplines” are time and money consuming.
- Involve the children in the work.
- Develop and use positive parent/teacher relations
9/6-2010 Erik Helvard, the Danish Centre for Conflict Resolution
Above text contains elements of the following articles:
Bettina Schjerbeck: Giv de unge konflikten tilbage
Helle Rabøl Hansen & Lotte Christy: Er det mobning eller konflikt
Annette Whimster: Ungemægling- en ny form for straf?
Lotte Christy: Kan mægling holde unge fra kriminalitet?