All too often, small incidents and minor disagreements can lead to serious violence among teenagers.
Unfortunately, many teens believe that when a conflict or disagreement arises, they have no choice but to fight. Some see fighting as the only acceptable way to resolve disagreements.
They do not know of any way to avoid a fight without losing face. Others do not know how to control themselves in the face of a perceived insult.
While conflicts and disagreements are an inevitable part of life, they do not have to lead to violence.
Throughout the USA, many schools and community groups offer conflict resolution programs for teens. Through these programs, teens are learning about new ways to work through and resolve disputes, reducing the possibility of violence.
Most programs teach teens a series of steps to follow in resolving conflicts (although the exact steps may vary somewhat among programs).
Steps to Conflict Resolution
- Set the stage. Agree to try to work together to find a solution peacefully, and establish ground rules (e.g., no name-calling, blaming, yelling, or interrupting).
- Gather perspectives. Each person describes the dispute from his or her perspective, without interruption. Listeners pay close attention and then ask clarifying questions in a non threatening manner. They consider not only what he other participants say they want, but why they want it. For example, if someone insists that you pay for something they believe you broke, they may be doing so not because they really care about the object or the money, but because they feel that you don’t respect them. Addressing the other person’s need to feel respected may be key to resolving the conflict.
- Find common interests. Establish which facts and issues all participants agree on and determine why different issues are important to each person. Identify common interests, which can be as simple as a mutual desire to resolve the problem without resorting to violence or a shared need to save face.
- Create options. Take time for each teen to brainstorm about possible solutions to the problem. Come up with a list of options without immediately judging them or feeling committed to them. Try to think of solutions where both people gain something-think winwin! Too often we assume that for one person to win, the other person has to lose. In reality, it is often possible to think creatively and come up with a solution that both people feel good about, where both walk away feeling that their needs have been met.
- Evaluate options. After a number of options are suggested, each teen discusses his or her feelings about each of the proposed solutions. Participants will negotiate and often will need to compromise in order to reach a conclusion that is acceptable to both. They may need to agree to disagree about some issues to reach an understanding.
- Create an agreement. The teens involved explicitly state their agreement and may even want to write it down. If necessary, they set up a time to check back to see how the agreement is working.
When teens use such an approach to resolve conflicts and disagreements, they often find that conflicts don’t have to be avoided, nor do they necessarily lead to violence. Conflict can actually be a positive force in their lives; it can provide teens with an opportunity to take a close look at themselves and their attitudes and beliefs. If resolved positively, conflicts can actually help strengthen relationships and build greater understanding.
Schools and communities have developed a number of different types of conflict resolution programs:
Conflict resolution training programs
Conflict resolution training programs involve a separate course offered in the school or community that explicitly teaches the principles of conflict resolution and necessary skills and abilities.
Peaceable classrooms and schools
Some schools are now trying to incorporate conflict resolution education into all aspects of the classroom or the school environment. With such approaches, conflict resolution education is interwoven with all classroom teaching, and teachers and staff are encouraged to promote effective conflict resolution principles and practices through their own behavior and through discipline and management practices.
Do conflict resolution programs actually reduce violence?
The effectiveness of most conflict resolution programs in reducing physical violence has not been adequately assessed. When studies have been conducted, some programs have shown no impact on aggressive behavior, while a few have been shown to reduce aggressiveness, violence, dropout rates, and student suspensions. A number of programs have been shown to be effective in improving academic performance and increasing cooperation, communication skills, assertiveness, self-esteem, and self-control.