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Youth peer mentoring

Health Factors: Family & Social Support
Decision Makers: Community Members Educators Local Government State Government Federal Government Nonprofit Leaders
Evidence Rating: Some Evidence
Population Reach: 1-9% of WI's population
Impact on Disparities: No impact on disparities likely

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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

Increased social connectedness
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 (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).

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).

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 (Dopp 2004). 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).

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 (Cawley 2011).


United States

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. Accessed on May 24, 2016

Citations - Description

Karcher 2007 - Karcher M. Cross-age peer mentoring. Youth Mentoring: Research in Action. 2007; 1(7): 3-17. Accessed on May 24, 2016
Waisman-Peer mentoring 2006 - Waisman Center. The power of peer mentoring. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Madison, University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, Wisconsin Council on Developmental Disabilities; 2006. Accessed on November 10, 2015

Citations - Evidence

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. Accessed on April 11, 2018
Dopp 2004* - Dopp J, Block T. High school peer mentoring that works! Council for Exceptional Children. 2004;37(1):56-62. Accessed on May 24, 2016
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. Accessed on April 27, 2016
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. Accessed on April 27, 2016
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. Accessed on May 24, 2016
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. Accessed on May 24, 2016
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. Accessed on May 24, 2016
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. Accessed on May 24, 2016
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. Accessed on April 27, 2016
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. Accessed on April 27, 2016
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. Accessed on May 24, 2016

Citations - Implementation

Breakthrough Silicon Valley - Breakthrough Silicon Valley. A commitment to excellence. Accessed on May 24, 2016
Girl Talk - Girl Talk. Empowering girls together. Accessed on May 24, 2016
IGNITE - IGNITE. IGNITE peer mentoring. Accessed on May 24, 2016
Link Crew - The Boomerang Project. Link Crew. Accessed on May 24, 2016
STARS - Just Say YES. STARS Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Program (STARS). Accessed on November 10, 2015
YESS - The YESS Institute. YESS peer mentoring: Peer leaders teaching students the road to success. Accessed on May 24, 2016

Page Last Updated

April 28, 2016

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