Youth peer mentoring

Youth peer mentoring programs, also called cross-age peer mentoring programs, establish an ongoing relationship between an older youth or young adult, usually a high school or college student, and a younger child or adolescent, usually an elementary or middle school student (Karcher 2007). The more experienced mentor provides the less experienced mentee support, encouragement, and guidance for schoolwork and relationships with others. Mentors and mentees are often paired based on some shared characteristic or circumstance such as age, ability, or interests (Waisman-Peer mentoring 2006). Youth peer mentoring programs are often organized by schools, community centers, or faith-based organizations.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased social connectedness

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Increased self-esteem

  • Improved social skills

  • Reduced delinquent behavior

  • Improved sense of community

  • Reduced suicide

  • Reduced victimization

  • Increased physical activity

  • Reduced sweetened beverage consumption

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that youth peer mentoring programs increase social connectedness among elementary school-aged mentees (Karcher 2008, Karcher 2005). However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects among mentees of all ages.

Elementary school children with high school or college student peer mentors appear to be better connected to school (Karcher 2005, Karcher 2008), friends, and parents (Karcher 2005) than classmates without mentors. Mentees may have greater involvement with, and a more positive attitude about, school than their classmates; mentees also report greater affection for their parents (Karcher 2005). Participation in peer mentoring programs can increase mentees’ self-esteem (Karcher 2008) and interpersonal skills (Herrera 2008, Karcher 2008), and decrease problem behavior among youth with the highest risk of committing crimes (). Teachers report that elementary and middle school students mentored by high school students have better peer relationships than non-mentored students (Herrera 2008).

Peer mentoring may increase mentors’ connection to school, parents, and friends, as well as their self-esteem (Karcher 2009). In some cases, mentors have shown improved interpersonal skills over the course of their mentoring relationship (Herrera 2008, ). College students who mentor middle and high school students also report more positive perceptions of community service and demonstrate greater problem solving skills than non-mentoring peers ().

A study of Source of Strength, a peer mentoring program focused on suicide prevention that pairs high school students with same-age peer leaders, suggests that mentees are more likely to feel comfortable and positive about seeking adult help than non-mentees (Wyman 2010). Another peer mentoring program that connects students with disabilities with same-age peer mentors has shown improved social skills and cooperative problem solving among the high school-aged mentees (). Evaluations of a mentoring program that supports elementary school students who are bullied suggest that mentored children are less likely to be victimized than bullied children who do not have mentors (, Gregus 2015).

Group-based peer mentoring that focuses on diet and nutrition may increase physical activity levels and reduce soda consumption among female high school student mentees ().

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

Programs such as Link Crew and IGNITE help freshmen transition into high school with the help of high school senior mentors in cities across the country (Link Crew, IGNITE). The STARS program, started in Dallas, Texas, pairs at-risk younger teens with outstanding high schoolers trained as mentors (STARS), and San Jose’s Breakthrough Silicon Valley program matches middle school students who have high potential but lack opportunities with high school and college student mentors (Breakthrough Silicon Valley). Girl Talk is an example of a program that connects female middle school students with female high school students (Girl Talk), and Denver’s YESS mentoring program matches senior high schoolers to freshman with similar cultural backgrounds (YESS).

Implementation Resources

MRC-Garringer 2008 - Garringer M, MacRae P. Building effective peer mentoring programs in schools: An introductory guide. Mentoring Resource Center (MRC); 2008.

Citations - Evidence

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Cawley 2011* - Cawley J, Cisek-Gillman L, Roberts R, et al. Effect of HealthCorps, a high school peer mentoring program, on youth diet and physical activity. Childhood Obesity. 2011;7(5):364–71.

Karcher 2005 - Karcher MJ. The effects of developmental mentoring and high school mentors' attendance on their younger meentes' self-esteem, social skills, and connectedness. Psychology in the Schools. 2005;42(1):65-77.

Karcher 2008 - Karcher MJ. The Study of Mentoring in the Learning Environment (SMILE): A randomized evaluation of the effectiveness of school-based mentoring. Prevention Science. 2008;9:99-113.

Karcher 2009 - Karcher MJ. Increases in academic connectedness and self-esteem across high school students who serve as cross-age peer mentors. American School Counselor Association (ASCA). 2009;12(4):292-299.

Herrera 2008 - Herrera C, Kauh TJ, Cooney SM, Grossman JB, McMaken J. High school students as mentors: Findings from the Big Brothers Big Sisters school-based mentoring impact study. Philadelphia: Public/Private Ventures; 2008.

Wyman 2010 - Wyman PA, Brown CH, LoMurray M, et al. An outcome evaluation of the Sources of Strength suicide prevention program delivered by adolescent peer leaders in high school. American Journal of Public Health. 2010;100(9):1653-1661.

Dopp 2004* - Dopp J, Block T. High school peer mentoring that works! Council for Exceptional Children. 2004;37(1):56-62.

Weiler 2013* - Weiler L, Haddock S, Zimmerman TS, et al. Benefits derived by college students from mentoring at-risk youth in a service-learning course. American Journal of Community Psychology. 2013;52(3):236–248.

Weiler 2015* - Weiler LM, Haddock SA, Zimmerman TS, et al. Time-limited, structured youth mentoring and adolescent problem behaviors. Applied Developmental Science. 2015;19(4):196–205.

Elledge 2010* - Elledge LC, Cavell TA, Ogle NT, Newgent RA. School-based mentoring as selective prevention for bullied children: A preliminary test. The Journal of Primary Prevention. 2010;31(3):171–187.

Gregus 2015 - Gregus SJ, Craig JT, Rodriguez JH, Pastrana FA, Cavell TA. Lunch buddy mentoring for children victimized by peers: Two pilot studies. Journal of Applied School Psychology. 2015;31(2):167–197.

Citations - Implementation Examples

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Link Crew - The Boomerang Project. Link Crew.

IGNITE - IGNITE. IGNITE peer mentoring.

Girl Talk - Girl Talk. Empowering girls together.

STARS - Just Say YES. STARS Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Program (STARS).

Breakthrough Silicon Valley - Breakthrough Silicon Valley. A commitment to excellence.

YESS - The YESS Institute. YESS peer mentoring: Peer leaders teaching students the road to success.

Date Last Updated

Apr 28, 2016