YouthZone column: Youth find restoration through the art of conflict resolution

Conflict is a normal part of life, an everyday challenge, and an opportunity to learn to express yourself and create change.

The other day I asked one of my kids I work with at YouthZone, “When you think of the word conflict, what comes to mind?’”

“Losing control,” she responded.

She is right. This loss of control, along with the lack of understanding and poor communication, is at the root of all conflict.

Throughout my life, I was challenged with many unfortunate events that caused a lot of conflict in my life. Some of those conflicts I created, but many were beyond my control. I made choices that hurt not only myself, but those I cared about most. I was lost and felt I couldn’t escape a life full of conflict.

As I grew, I learned that my actions can either hurt or inspire those around me. It wasn’t about how I felt at the moment, but what I chose to do in that moment that really mattered. We can choose to stay stuck in conflict or choose to accept conflict, move forward and seek resolution.

When YouthZone works with kids in conflict, they reinforce positive behaviors and redirect negative behaviors using three effective steps.

Non-judgment — If we judge, make assumptions or focus on what these young people did wrong, we escalate the conflict and soon will become part of the conflict.

Patience — No matter how much we disagree or want to lecture, we need to be patient and listen. What need is not being met? What is the root cause of this conflict?

Generate solutions — Be creative, ask questions, explore possibilities, encourage and focus on their strengths.

As a mediator, I learned that the guiding principle in mediation is respect for others. Every person has good intentions with a reason for their choices and integrity. People can and should make decisions about their own lives by thinking for themselves, speaking for themselves, and deciding for themselves. The challenge is theirs, and so is the outcome. Every person is capable of change.

The system that punishes those who have done wrong and experienced a conflict can lead into a deeper cycle of chaos. Because of escalating emotions and damaged relationships, youth often end up in the juvenile justice system.

By creating a safe space, youth can take the first positive step toward having a healthy dialogue. At YouthZone, we create safety by listening and understanding what a client has been through and the challenges they face. Once the underlying issues and needs are identified, we help the client move forward to create positive change.

Emotions are the energy that fuel conflicts. It is uncomfortable, and we need to accept that. A direct expression of feelings can often escalate the conflict when emotions are too strong. The art is finding that fine line between useful expression and critical opposition. It is critical to remain kind and calm during the conflict so you can come to a resolution where you find common ground and an understanding within yourself.

By being creative, young people can learn to express themselves and create change. They need to be able to identify their needs and listen to the needs of others. The process should include careful listening, reflecting, shared problem-solving, trust, and accountability that supports commitments to build relationships.

Airen Goodman holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology with an emphasis in Mediation and Conflict Resolution. As the CYDC/Senate Bill 94 Coordinator for the 9th District, Airen works with youth in the juvenile justice system using her skills in mental health counseling, crisis intervention, restorative justice, and mediation.

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