Ever since the Columbine tragedy in Colorado the subject of teen anger out of control is on every parent's mind. How can the teenager be helped to express his or her emotions in a constructive way? Anger and aggression are a part of life but the hormonal edge of this age group may sometimes lead to forms of behavior that are scary at best, horrific at worst.
Even when the emotional life of teenagers does not tend toward violence, parents often wonder how best to help their kids in this turbulent period. One of the most effective interventions that has emerged over the last decade is mediation, which involves a neutral third person who listens, gets the parties to calm down and listen to each other, and then helps them to reach a solution.
Mediation with teenagers brings the principles of problem-solving to the kinds of disputes that typically occur in the schoolyard and the classroom. It's also helpful in parent-child arguments because the main skill in problem-solving is active listening. Skilled listeners are able to identify the real interests that are behind the positions that people often take when they are under stress or angry. "You're a jerk" comes out easier than "I'm hurt".
I once saw a scene played twice between a father and a daughter in a role playing session. The first time the teenager stomped in and screamed that she was never going back to her mother's house again because the mom's new boyfriend was a creep. The father screamed back, " You're going to go because otherwise I'll get in trouble with the judge." The second time this scene was played the girl said the same thing but the Dad answered, "Sounds like you had a rough time. What happened?" The difference in these responses is the power of active listening.
Parents and teens are being introduced to mediation in peer-mediation and parent-child mediation programs around the country and around the world. These programs help to improve life at home and in the schools, creating a climate of trust and cooperation in many situations where it was hard to imagine only months before.
Listening and problem-solving are the skills naturally used by successful parents and children. But they can be easily taught to all parents and children and help families reduce the anger and aggression that lead to tragedies like Columbine.