Cross-age youth peer mentoring

Cross-age youth 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). Cross-age youth peer mentoring programs are often organized by schools, community centers, or faith-based organizations; they can include one-on-one mentoring or group mentoring.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased social connectedness

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Increased self-esteem

  • Improved social skills

  • Increased academic achievement

  • Reduced delinquent behavior

  • Improved sense of community

  • Reduced victimization

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that cross-age youth peer mentoring programs increase social connectedness among elementary school-aged mentees (NMRC-Karcher 2017). Elementary and middle school students paired with high school or college student peer mentors appear to be better connected to their school, friends, and parents than classmates without mentors (NMRC-Karcher 2017). However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects among mentees and mentors.

Participation in cross-age peer mentoring programs may increase mentees’ self-esteem, interpersonal skills, and peer acceptance (NMRC-Karcher 2017). 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). In some circumstances, cross-age peer mentoring programs can increase academic skills among mentees (NMRC-Karcher 2017) and decrease problem behavior among youth with the highest risk of engaging in delinquent behavior (NMRC-Karcher 2017, Weiler 2015*). Teachers report that elementary and middle school students mentored by high school students have better peer relationships than non-mentored students (Herrera 2008).

An evaluation of a peer mentoring program for children with learning disabilities or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Eye to Eye, reports increased self-esteem and interpersonal relationships and decreased depression among elementary and middle school students, when paired with mentors with the same challenges (Haft 2019*). It also indicates that mentees’ depression decreased to the level of peers without such difficulties (Haft 2019*). 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 (Elledge 2010*, Gregus 2015). A UK-based study suggests that peer mentoring can be a good practice to provide emotional support and interpersonal benefits for female youth at risk of sexual exploitation, and to connect them with services (Buck 2017*).

Cross-age 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, Weiler 2013*). 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 (Weiler 2013*).

Group-based cross-age peer mentoring can be incorporated in educational programs that promote healthy diets and physical activity among school children (Cawley 2011*, Smith 2016*); use of trained high school peer mentors in school-based physical activity programs can be more effective at increasing physical activity and improving health outcomes in mentees compared to teacher-led programs (Smith 2016*). Incorporating peer mentoring in youth peer support services appears to benefit youth with mental health challenges (Gopalan 2017*). Ensuring adequate program coordination and leadership, choosing the right mentor, selecting the activities to facilitate the mentor-mentee relationship building, providing plentiful training and supervision to peer mentors, and allowing youths to lead the programs are recommended best practices in cross-age youth peer mentoring programs (NMRC-Karcher 2017).

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

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 Just Say YES peer-to-peer mentoring program in Dallas-Fort Worth pairs younger teens with outstanding high schoolers trained as mentors (Just Say YES), 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 high schooler seniors to freshman with similar cultural backgrounds (YESS). Eye to Eye is a national mentoring program that connects middle school students with learning difficulties (e.g., dyslexia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)) with high school and college student mentors with similar learning difficulties (Eye to Eye). 

Implementation Resources

NMRC-Peer mentoring - National Mentoring Resource Center (NMRC). Peer mentoring.

NVEEE-Peer mentoring - National Voices for Equality Education and Enlightenment (NVEEE). Peer to peer mentoring.

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

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

NMRC-Karcher 2017 - Karcher MJ & Berger JR. National mentoring resource center model review: One-to-one cross-age peer mentoring. National Mentoring Resource Center (NMRC), Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP); September 2017.

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.

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.

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.

Haft 2019* - Haft SL, Chen T, LeBlanc C, Tencza F, Hoeft F. Impact of mentoring on socio-emotional and mental health outcomes of youth with learning disabilities and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Child and Adolescent Mental Health. 2019;24(4):318-328.

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.

Buck 2017* - Buck G, Lawrence A, Ragonese E. Exploring peer mentoring as a form of innovative practice with young people at risk of child sexual exploitation. British Journal of Social Work. 2017;47(6):1745-1763.

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.

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.

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.

Smith 2016* - Smith LH, Petosa RL. A structured peer-mentoring method for physical activity behavior change among adolescents. Journal of School Nursing. 2016;32(5):315-323.

Gopalan 2017* - Gopalan G, Lee SJ, Harris R, Acri MC, Munson MR. Utilization of peers in services for youth with emotional and behavioral challenges: A scoping review. Journal of Adolescence. 2017;55:88-115.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Link Crew - The Boomerang Project. Link Crew.

IGNITE - IGNITE. IGNITE peer mentoring.

Just Say YES - Just Say YES. Just Say YES Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Program.

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

Girl Talk - Girl Talk. Empowering girls together.

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

Eye to Eye - Eye to Eye. Mentoring.

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