Peer Mediation Is Inappropriate for Bullying

I was struck (no pun intended) by this recent news report — in which a Philadelphia student who was victimized by bullying was required by the school district to participate in a supervised meeting with the bully — and was again physically attacked by the bully during the meeting.

Many school districts have become enamored of “peer mediation” or other forms of supervised meetings between students in conflict.  The idea is to promote problem solving on a personal level and break down barriers between the students.

However, psychologists knowledgeable of the dynamics of bullying and harassment are almost uniform in their rejection of such techniques in instances  when a student has been targeted for bullying, as opposed to other forms of student-vs-student disputes.  They explain that bullying/harassment almost always has an element of a power imbalance (social status or otherwise) in which the target and the perpetrator do not meet on equal footing.  Peer mediation puts pressure on the targeted child to open their damaged emotions to the harasser, to accept apologies (heartfelt of contrived), or to otherwise “let things go” — all of which are inappropriate when a child has been victimized by another.  Targeted students may of course have such responses on their own, but they should not be put in a social situation that pressures them to do so.

The mental health experts state that such pressure can in fact be very harmful to the targeted child.  Indeed, it is really just a softer form of bullying that implies some fault or control on the part of the victim that may not reflect reality – and which this time is coming from the adults who are supposed to be protecting and supporting the targeted child.

I can’t imagine the emotional and psychological trauma that the targeted student in this news article is going through after being attacked in the presence of her so-called protectors during a meeting that they insisted she attend to resolve prior harassment.

Jerry Tanenbaum



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