Cross-age peer mentoring: Model review
Berger, Joshua R.M.
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This review addresses four topics related to one-on-one cross-age peer mentoring for children and adolescents, including: 1. Its documented effectiveness for mentees and mentors, 2. The extent to which effectiveness depends on characteristics of mentors, mentees, or program practices, 3. Intervening processes likely to link cross-age peer mentoring to youth outcomes, and 4. The success of efforts to reach and engage targeted youth and achieve high quality implementation. Extending a 2007 MENTOR Research in Action monograph definition of cross-age peer mentoring, which also was used in other literature reviews on cross-age peer mentoring, this review sharply differentiates cross-age one-to-one peer mentoring programs from cross-age peer group mentoring, peer-led education or targeted preventative interventions, and peer mentoring as an informal practice within larger programs. Overall, evidence is beginning to accumulate that supports at least the short-term effectiveness of formal cross-age peer mentoring programs. But this literature is growing at a very slow pace, mainly, it seems, because most of the literature on “peer mentoring,” old and new, combines one-to-one cross-age peer mentoring with group peer mentoring programs and peer education led by older youth. The limited evidence of effectiveness of cross-age peer mentoring, specifically as defined in this review, reveals benefits accrued by both children (mentees) and their teenage mentors. However, benefits to mentors are not the focus of this review. 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. These assist mentors in establishing what Rhodes4 describes as the building blocks of successful mentoring relationships—empathy, trust, mutuality—despite variability in the maturity and social distractibility of the teenage mentors.
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