Peer mentoring has long been a popular approach to providing mentoring to children and youth, one that also comes with the additional impact of providing leadership and development opportunities to the older or near-peer youth who serve in the mentoring role. These programs build on the long and rich tradition of peer leadership programs, peer counseling, and peer support groups, and often deliver their services in schools or afterschool settings. Peer mentoring can be delivered one-on-one or in group settings. Common models include high school students mentoring elementary students, pairing older students with incoming students in a school or campus environment, and out-of-school-time programs in which older youth lead their near-peers in recreational and developmental activities.
What does the research say about peer mentoring?
In 2017, the National Mentoring Resource Center released a review of the research base related to cross-age peer mentoring for children and adolescents. This review examined research on the effectiveness for mentees and mentors, factors conditioning effectiveness, intervening processes that link cross-age peer mentoring to youth outcomes, and the success of efforts to reach and engage targeted youth and achieve high quality implementation. The review concluded that there is some preliminary evidence that:
- Cross-age peer mentoring, specifically as defined in this review, can accrue benefits to both children (mentees) and their teenage mentors.
- The strongest effects for mentees appear to be increases in school attitudes (e.g., connectedness), relationships with adults (both teachers and parents) and peers, and improvements in internal affective states (e.g., self-esteem).
- The most significant moderators of program effectiveness appear to be the mentors’ attitudes and motivations, and the degree of clear programmatic infrastructure and fidelity of its implementation. Involvement of parents in programs also seems to yield larger benefits, and securing support from school administrators and teachers can directly influence effectiveness.
- The means by which programs have positive effects on mentees appears to be largely through the consistent and affirming presence of mentors, and the clarity and predictability resulting from a clear program structure.
The review is accompanied by recommendations for how practitioners could enhance their programmatic practices by taking into account available research. It was suggested that practitioners:
- Lay a strong foundation for the program by selecting the right coordinators and the right mentors.
- Select the right match activities to scaffold relationship building.
- Provide lots of training and supervision to peer mentors.
- Let the youth lead as much as possible.
Beyond these highlights, this review offers a wealth of research-based information and actionable ideas for those looking to begin a cross-age peer mentoring program, or if they are already doing so, to strengthen existing practices.
The chapter on cross-age peer mentoring in the 2014 Handbook on Youth Mentoring also offers several research-informed recommendations for practitioners hoping to maximize the results of peer mentoring programs. These tips include:
- Making sure that peer mentors receive substantial training on how to implement the program and how to manage their behaviors to avoid negative role modeling.
- Offering additional training on topics related to relationship management, such as the mentor’s role, active listening, negotiation strategies, and conflict resolution.
- Providing strong adult support in planning and supervising activities.
- Discussing and even practicing closure so that all participants are prepared for the eventual dissolution of the relationship.
What does the NMRC offer on peer mentoring?
Broad Evidence Reviews
- As referenced above, the NMRC Research Board has conducted an evidence review entitled One-to-One Cross-Age Peer Mentoring examining the research evidence on this mentoring model.
Reviews of Specific Programs
- Peer Group Connection’s program design includes high school peer leaders engaging with groups of freshmen mentees. Read the review and the accompanying insights for practitioners.
- The Cross-Age Peer Mentoring Program engages high school students as one-to-one mentors for middle and elementary school students. Read the review and the accompanying insights for practitioners.
- The Woodrock Youth Development Program combines peer mentoring with other supports as a substance abuse prevention intervention for at-risk youth. Read the review.
- Peer mentoring is a component of the SAM (Solution, Action, Mentorship) Program for Adolescent Girls, a school-based, substance-use-prevention program which uses solution-focused brief therapy and community and peer mentorship. Read the review and the accompanying insights for practitioners.
Reviews of Relevant Practices
- As noted above, providing match support for mentors can be a relevant practice to ensure that peer mentors have the support and guidance they need to be successful. Check out the review of this practice and the accompanying insights for practitioners.
- This blog post entitled School-Based Peer Mentoring: A Powerful Tool to Help Close the Mentoring Gap discusses the impact of peer mentoring programs, like the Center for Supportive Schools’ Peer Group Connection model, on expanding mentoring in schools.
- This Research Alert on Web-Based Peer Support for New Fathers explores the potential of a text messaging intervention designed to provide mental health and parenting supports to new fathers mentored by peers in their own communities.
- This webinar, entitled Peer Mentoring: A Discussion with Experienced Practitioners, engages seasoned peer mentoring practitioners in a conversation about best practices for this model.
- The Peer Mentoring Handbook provides recommended practices for teens and young adults to mentor younger students or children.
- Supporting Students on the Autism Spectrum: Student Mentor Guidelines offers tips for student mentors engaged in peer mentoring relationships with students on the autism spectrum. Starting a Mentoring Club in your High School for Students with Disabilities is a how-to guide created by Autism Speaks, which walks high school students through the process of starting a peer mentoring club for students with disabilities at their school.
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)’s Investments in Peer Mentoring
- In recent years, OJJDP has supported several mentoring programs that utilize a peer mentoring model, including Friends First STARS Mentoring Program, Peer Group Connection (described above) and the National Indian Youth Leadership Project.
- Under the OJJDP FY 2014 High-Risk Mentoring Research program, which supports research and evaluations to further examine how certain characteristics, components and practices of mentoring programs can best support youth who are particularly high risk for delinquency, OJJDP funds a project called Saving Lives, Inspiring Youth (S.L.I.Y). Through this project, researchers from Loyola University Chicago are investigating the impact of cross-age mentoring for reducing negative outcomes related to exposure to community violence and delinquency and promoting resiliency and positive development among mentors and mentees from low-income, high crime, urban neighborhoods. Learn more by visiting the project page, or by reviewing this grantee spotlight on S.L.I.Y.
Select Additional Reading and Resources
- The ABC of Peer Mentoring – What Secondary Students Have to Say About Cross-Age Peer Mentoring (2015, Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring)
- Peer Mentoring: An Effective Vehicle for Promoting Healthy Behaviors (2014, Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring)
- High School Mentors In Brief: Findings from the Big Brothers Big Sisters School-Based Mentoring Impact Study (2009, Public/Private Ventures)
- Building Effective Peer Mentoring Programs in Schools: An Introductory Guide (2008, MRC)