Information for Students, Teachers and Parents
Why Peer Helping?
Peer helping programs have increased dramatically over the last fifteen years. Peer programs now exist in elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, hospitals, agencies, corporations, and senior citizen organizations. Although a variety of terms are used to describe peer work such as peer tutoring, peer facilitation, peer counseling, peer support, and peer education, the term, peer helping has gained acceptance as a way of summarizing a variety of peer programs.
What Are the Benefits of Peer Helping?
Peer helping assists children and adolescents to feel capable, understood, and responsible. Peer helping teaches young people decision-making skills to help combat negative peer pressure; and provides children and adolescents with communication skills to understand others and be understood. In addition peer helping enables youth to learn action skills to prevent substance abuse, enhance self-esteem, reduce loneliness, promote health, and support academic and personal achievement.
Peer helping also contributes to the climate of care and respect needed by educational institutions and community organizations to reduce violence, vandalism, truancy and school dropouts. Peer helping is also a way for communities to demonstrate the value of service to others. By establishing a peer program, schools and community organizations teach children and adolescents how to help, not hurt, others.
What is Peer Helping?
Peer helping is based on the fact that youth often seek out their peers when they are experiencing some frustration, worry or concern. Children and adolescents want to help each other, yet they often do not know how or what to do. Peer helpers are trained and supervised to provide any or all of the following:
- listening and understanding;
- friendship and support;
- decision making assistance;
- tutoring and academic help;
- educational, career, and health information;
- role modeling for younger children;
- mediation and conflict resolution;
- problem-solving assistance; and
- Referral to professionals.
How Do Peer Helpers Help?
Peer helpers roles are determined by the type of training provided as well as school and community needs. Some typical assignments include working as:
- Peer Tutors: helping students with academic and social skills learning;
- Buddies: helping younger or new students make transitions into a new school;
- Orientation Guides: helping students from feeder schools or helping persons new to the community;
- Discussion Leaders: assisting with topics of concern to other children and adolescents;
- Career Assistants: helping with career choices and resources;
- Special Project Assistants: designing and coordinating services and projects of benefit to others in the community;
- Academic Assistants: helping students set goals, consider options and plan actions;
- Referral Agents: helping youth get connected to appropriate specialists;
- Peer Counselors: helping others sort-out concerns, brainstorm ideas, and provide practical help;
- Conflict Mediators: assisting others to resolve disputes;
- Peer Educators: assisting others in learning and using important health and social information;
- Role Models: helping others learn appropriate behaviors;
- Outreach Workers: reaching out to the troubled or lonely.
What Peer Helping Is Not!
Peer helpers do not make decisions for others. They may suggest options or alternatives, identify consequences, or share their experiences, but they do not give advice or tell others what to do. Peer helpers do not provide therapy or treatment. They are neither replacement for professional service providers, nor are they substitutes for clerical staff.
The National Standards for Effective Peer Programs
While peer programs may be quite different from each other, research has identified seven program standards that must be present for a peer program to be effective. The following seven components can be used to assess peer program quality.
- The program must be led and supervised by adults specifically trained and experienced in peer helping. Trainers and supervisors must be able to demonstrate and model the skills peer helpers are expected to learn. A national certification system is available for trainers.
- The program must include structured training sessions consisting of a proven curriculum, based on demonstrated youth needs as well as the goals and objectives of relevant support groups. School-based peer programs may be either credit or non-credit.
- The training must encourage enjoyment, involvement, and self-management. The trainees must gradually be involved in the determination of training activities as well as the development and distribution of program information and services.
- Children and adolescents selected as trainees must feel their training is special and based on their needs and existing skills. Selection criteria must insure that the trainees represent the social composition of the community in which they will be working. Care and concern must be used with persons who volunteered and were not selected as trainees.
- Training methods must be interactive and experiential with coaching and feedback. The training sessions should include role rehearsal, homework, and practical assignments.
- The training program and the specific roles peer helpers take on must have the support of teachers, administrators, parents and other students in a school-based setting, and the support of relevant groups and care-givers in a community-based setting.
- The peer helpers must have on-going supervision and continuing opportunities for learning. Supervisors must maintain a high quality relationship with the peer helpers that allows for monitoring, dealing with confidentiality, and making referrals to professionals.