Peer mentoring has long been a popular approach to provide 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?
While the NMRC has not conducted a formal review of the evidence base on peer mentoring, there are a few prominent studies worth noting. The 2008 evaluation of the Big Brothers Big Sisters High School Bigs program offers perhaps the most rigorous test of cross-age peer mentoring programs to date. This study compared the outcomes of students served by adult and high school-aged mentors, finding that “intervention group students who worked with an adult mentor showed significantly greater improvement than students who worked with a youth mentor in school engagement and behavior.” However, the study also reported evidence suggesting that these matches could perhaps approach the effectiveness of adult-youth relationships if peer mentors had better communication with program staff and sought advice as to how to best fulfill the mentoring role.
There are other evaluations of specific peer mentoring programs that can be accessed below, including the evaluations of the Cross-Age Mentoring Program and Peer Group Connection. Although varied in their specifics, these programs do share some common features that are worth noting, including an emphasis on giving peer mentors a leadership role in designing the program, using adults in strategic ways to provide scaffolding to the work of the peer mentors, and offering meaningful activities that promote connectedness and feelings of belonging.
The chapter on cross-age peer mentoring in the 2014 Handbook on Youth Mentoring 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.
The NMRC plans to conduct a thorough review of the peer mentoring literature in the near future.
What does the NMRC offer on peer mentoring?
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.
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 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.
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)’s Investments in Peer Mentoring
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)