Adolescence can be a challenging time for young people. They’re finding their way in the world and learning how to succeed socially and academically, while trying to build long-lasting friendships. Sometimes friendships become strained. Misunderstandings and disagreements are natural, and if not resolved constructively, they can fester and lead to larger problems.
Especially during the middle school years, it’s important that students develop coping and social-emotional learning skills to navigate such challenges. Occasionally, they also need help from caring adults when they become stuck and can’t find a way forward.
This happened with Juan and Arlette. They had been friends for a few years at their Southwest Side Chicago K-8 elementary school, but in the fall, they found themselves starting to hang out in different friend groups. Inevitably, this caused them to spend less time with each other.
Soon, they began hearing rumors. Arlette thought Juan was talking about her behind her back; Juan had heard through the grapevine that she was sharing personal information about him. Things deteriorated to the point where the two eighth graders stopped being friends.
Both teens were upset about the situation. The misunderstandings and rumors kept happening, and they were afraid it might lead to an actual fight. When Juan realized this, he turned to Juanita Herrera, his CIS of Chicago Student Supports Manager. He trusted her and knew if anyone could rectify the situation — and restore his friendship with Arlette — it would be Ms. Herrera.
Juanita, who holds a master’s degree in child and adolescent psychology and has been a steady partner at Arlette’s and Juan’s school for five years, brought the teens together. Using restorative practices she’s learned from years in the field, Juanita encouraged Arlette and Juan to respectfully listen to each other’s concerns and frustrations.
With her coaching, they promised to talk directly to one another if new rumors surfaced. More importantly, they realized they still cared about each other and wanted to stay friends. And once they’d repaired their personal relationship, they helped each other make things right with other members of their friend groups.
Not all strained relationships can be repaired by restorative practices. Sometimes the wounds are too deep and people are not ready to forgive. At first, Juan and Arlette thought this was the case for them as well. They were ready to go their separate ways, and maybe even take actions that would’ve been destructive to them — as well as their classmates.
But with the help of a well-trained caring adult like Ms. Herrera, they were able to find common ground, understand each other’s perspectives, and renew the friendship that has meant so much to both students throughout their middle school years.