Empowering young people as peer mentors can be a highly effective way to make a difference on the issues that matter most to them.
Peer-led initiatives can have a particular impact on online issues such as online hate speech. By harnessing students’ knowledge of the issues young people encounter online, peer mentors can model positive online behaviour, equip their peers with knowledge about online trends and issues, and raise awareness of coping mechanisms.
The Diana Award (partner in the SELMA project) has trained thousands of young people to take the lead in peer mentoring roles, for instance through the ‘Anti-Bullying Ambassadors’ and ‘Be Strong Online Ambassadors’ programmes’.
“Having the Be Strong Online Ambassadors has impacted our school and community greatly. Students are more aware of social media and online issues. There have been more conversations about issues that have arisen, and students have been coming to the Be Strong Online Ambassadors to get advice. In addition, other schools have been contacting us to ask how we got involved and about our experience,” states one ambassador.
Another ambassador highlights the importance of their role, even for the students that don’t receive their direct support. “I think that the majority of pupils in school are comforted by the knowledge that we are there for them, even if they never use us.”
Peer mentors also benefit of their participation in the programme. They gain important skills including increased self-confidence, a sense of responsibility, active listening, empathy and communication skills.
Young people who have received a session delivered by The Diana Award ambassadors agree on the positive feedback, highlighting the benefits of being taught by their peers. “Having students, the same age as us delivering the lesson made everything really easy to understand,” explains one participant. Another participant describes ambassadors as “brilliant at presenting – better than listening to teachers.” “It was brilliant to have other students teaching us, it was less formal, and the activities were very well matched to our age,” highlights another one.
As confirmed by participants, peer supporters often have more in common with students who need help than adults. Students who have been bullied for instance often find it helpful to talk to a peer. They are also more likely to listen to someone their own age than an adult.
Setting up successful and sustainable peer mentoring programmes requires dedicated staff members who are willing to invest time and effort to set them up. However, these initiatives can make a positive difference within the school, community or online. A teacher summarises that “children are more aware of what bullying entails and that’s because of the role the Anti-Bullying Ambassadors are playing in the playground. The children know they can go to them, they’re visible in their hoodies, they’re very good at resolving things and reporting it if it needs to be escalated.”
This feedback highlights the impact that young people can have when they are supported to make a difference through peer mentoring schemes. For tips on setting up an effective peer-led scheme, check out these top ten tips for empowering young people to become peer mentors.
Challenging homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying at the Sharnbrook Upper School: A best practice example
One school who has empowered their students to take on a peer mentoring role through the Anti-Bullying Ambassadors Programme is the Sharnbrook Upper School in Bedford, UK.
A big focus of their campaign has been challenging homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying and championing difference. The ambassadors have used students’ experiences to tackle homophobic language and raise awareness of bullying with the whole school community.
Check out their work here:
For more information and support, check our “How to?” guide for setting up a peer mentoring scheme which outlines our suggested pathways through the SELMA Toolkit in order to establish SELMA peer mentors in your school.