Using Peer Support as an Anti-Bullying Initiative

— Bullying Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Apr 6, 2011

What is Peer Support?

Peer support is something that happens naturally among young people in friendship groups where they offer one another emotional and practical help. Over the last few decades peer support schemes have been developed that enable schools to generate an ethos and system of support within the whole school community.

Organized peer support typically involves training a group of pupils to act as peer supporters. Some of the most common types of peer support schemes include:

  • Peer Counseling - Pupils trained as peer counselors support other pupils in drop-in sessions or at arranged times.
  • Befriending/Buddying - Pupils offer support in a less formal way and may supervise games and activities. This method is especially popular in primary schools.
  • Mediation - Trained peer supporters support conflict resolution between other pupils by acting as a neutral third party.
  • Mentoring - Peer mentors act as a role model, offering support and guidance to another student (usually younger).

A key aspect of peer support is that students are actively involved in creating and developing the schemes to help meet the specific needs of the school. One of the main reasons schools choose to develop peer support is to help reduce bullying.

Peer Support as an Anti-Bullying Initiative

Peer support can be used as part of a whole school anti-bullying approach. Most bullying incidents occur in the presence of peers. These bystanders could potentially intervene and attempt to stop the bullying. Therefore, many believe that one key to reducing bullying is through the active involvement of the students themselves.

Peer support schemes can aim to directly reduce levels of bullying within the school as well as provide a source of support for the victims of bullying.

  • Victims of bullying may feel more comfortable talking to another young person rather than reporting directly to adults. 
  • An important factor is that peer support tackles the issue within the whole school community.
  • Adopting a whole school approach to peer support promotes a culture of care and support between students where bullying is less accepted.

Evidence for the Impact of Peer Support Schemes

The research relating to various outcomes of peer support initiatives suggests that they provide some benefits for peer supporters themselves, users of the scheme, and schools in general. Most users of peer support schemes found them helpful: it provided them with somebody to talk to, the strength to overcome bullying, and showed that somebody cared about them. These findings support previous evidence obtained from teacher and student reports (Naylor & Cowie, 1999). Advances in students’ self esteem and other aspects of social and emotional development have been reported as a result of being involved in peer support schemes (Ellis, Marsh & Craven, 2005).

Can Peer Support Actually Reduce Bullying in Schools?

There is a lack of evidence that peer support can directly reduce bullying levels in schools. Rather, it appears that peer support has an indirect effect upon bullying behavior by fostering a climate of care within the school. The school gradually develops a sense of being a caring community, where bullying is not tolerated, and builds upon its reputation in the local community (Cowie & Hutson, 2005). 

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