The concept of peer mentoring generally involves older students advising and counseling younger students about issues affecting them. Since younger adolescents tend to look up to (and seek to emulate) older adolescents, this dynamic can be exploited to teach important lessons about the use of computers and communications technology. Peer mentoring has been fruitful in reducing traditional bullying and interpersonal conflict within schools and, as such, should be considered in a comprehensive approach to preventing cyberbullying as well. Accordingly, newer cohorts of students can learn from the wisdom of adolescents who have already experienced online aggression and have figured out effective ways to deal with it. This wisdom may sink in more quickly and deeply since it comes from peers rather than adults, as kids have the tendency to tune out adults when being taught certain life lessons (can you relate to that?). As we’ve heard from a mother in California: “Parents and teachers can get up and preach, but if they hear it from another kid, they will remember it.” On a larger scale, these efforts can significantly and positively affect the social climate within the school community, benefitting youth and their families, teachers and staff, and the community as a whole.
As Mike Tully, a noted school law attorney points out: “Never overlook the possibility of using students themselves as agents of change.”
The basic purpose of peer mentoring is to employ older students to change the way younger students think about the harassment or mistreatment of others in certain situations. Mentors can also be utilized to help younger students appreciate the responsibility and risks associated with the use of computers, cell phones, and the Internet. To illustrate, one student mentor states, “I have started to talk to other children who have had a similar experience and try and help them because they are going through the same thing that I went through and it helps to talk to people who understand. I tell them to be brave and not to worry because everything will be okay.”
Overall, the goal is to encourage youth to take responsibility for the problem and to work together in coming up with a solution. It also seeks to foster respect and acceptance of others—no matter what—and to get kids to see how their actions affect others and how they can purposefully choose behaviors that promote positive peer relations. This, then, can drastically affect the quality of the school environment by shaping the climate in which students and educators work, learn, and act.
Highly adaptable, depending on individualized needs, peer mentoring can be accomplished in a number of ways. For example, one-on-one sessions might take place where a high schooler is called in to meet with a middle school victim to offer support and help. Or high school students could regularly talk to groups of middle schoolers in the cafeteria during lunch. A few high school students could also organize a presentation for small classroom-sized (20+) middle school groups. Finally, skits can be presented in auditoriums or cafeterias by high schoolers for assemblies of younger students. All of these interactions can be comprised of one or more activities. Schools can utilize older students to convey a number of important messages of Internet safety and responsibility to younger students, including:
- Reiterating that they are not alone in experiencing victimization and the resultant pain, rejection, humiliation, and loneliness
- Encouraging them to speak up and not remain silent when confronted with cyberbullying
- Sharing one or more highly relatable vignettes or stories about cyberbullying
- Explaining the “language” of cyberbullying, including the relevant terms and technology
- Describing positive ways in which conflict between peers can be de-escalated or resolved
- Using role-playing examples to get students thinking about the various ways to address a cyberbullying situation
- Providing an opportunity to discuss and answer any questions, clarify any confusion, and reinforce how to deal with cyberbullying problems
Over time and as needed, additional formal and informal lessons—as well as continued interaction between the high school mentors and the middle school mentees—can occur.
The Cyberbullying Research Center has created a comprehensive peer mentoring program involving adult facilitators, high-school mentors, and middle-school participants (known as “Torchbearers”). A specific and detailed manual has been written for these roles, and involves ten unique lessons and step-by-step directions as to how best to successfully administer the curriculum. Incrementally and cumulatively, this program will allow schools to mobilize motivated older students to change the way younger students think about the harassment or mistreatment of others online. It will also help younger students appreciate the responsibilities and risks associated with the use of computers, cell phones, and the Internet.
Our Anti-Cyberbullying Peer Mentoring Program has been designed to encourage youth to take responsibility for the problem and to work together in coming up with a solution – so that they themselves can be agents of change. The program also fosters respect and acceptance of others – no matter their differences. Finally, it enables kids to see how their individual and group actions affect the emotions and lives of others, and how they can purposefully choose behaviors that promote positive peer relations.