Find out what peer support is, how it can help, and if it’s right for your teen…
WHAT IS PEER SUPPORT?
Peer support is when a group of people with similar lived experiences come together to give one another support and advice. These groups can offer social, emotional and practical support.
Peer support groups can be a great source of comfort for teens who are facing a range of issues. Groups are available for people who share common struggles or experiences with things like:
- Mental health
- Physical health
- Racial prejudices
The great thing about peer support groups is that everyone who is there is on an equal footing. Everyone’s experiences matter. Everyone’s voice can be heard. It’s a safe space where your teen can share their stories, ask for advice, and give advice. There’s no pressure to speak if your teen doesn’t want to – they can simply listen. Hearing others’ experiences and their individual ways of coping can be helpful for your teen’s own healing journey and they may feel more comfortable joining in with the discussion after a few sessions.
Every peer group runs slightly differently but most tend to focus on chats and discussions, or it could be activity-based. For example, there are many walking groups for mental health where a group of people get together to go for a stroll and a chat. Gardening, art and sport are also popular activities for peer groups.
During recent lockdowns, many peer groups have had to move their regular catch-ups to an online platform such as Zoom or Facebook. Others have adapted by taking their activities outdoors to allow members to still meet up – socially-distanced, of course.
HOW DOES IT HELP?
Peer groups can be an effective tool to help your teen cope with whatever challenge they’re facing. It can be reassuring for teens to talk to and hear from people who are going through similar experiences to them and makes them feel less alone or ‘different’. Having the support of their peers can make them feel accepted and understood.
Just knowing that they have something in common with someone else can make your teen feel more relaxed and comfortable when it comes to talking about their own issues and concerns. It can be a gateway to opening up better communication between you and your teen: they’re more likely to talk more openly and honestly about their issues than ever before because they feel comforted and supported by their peer group.
IS IT RIGHT FOR MY TEEN?
Peer support has been shown to have wide-ranging benefits and is becoming increasingly popular in the UK as a treatment for mental and physical health, addictions and grief. You can read more about peer support here and talk over the benefits with your teen to see if it might be something they’d be interested in.
Encourage your teen to read What Is Peer Support? to help them make a more informed decision about whether or not peer support is right for them. If your teen has social anxieties or is worried about having to talk in front of others, you could suggest they go along to observe a session to get a better feel for the group and to see what’s involved – you can talk to the peer group leader or organiser about this beforehand to see if this is an option.
It might be that after observing or even taking part in a session your teen decides that peer support isn’t for them, and that’s OK. Try not to force the issue and talk to your teen’s GP or health professional to explore other possible treatment routes.
WHERE CAN I FIND A SUITABLE PEER SUPPORT GROUP?
Ask your teen’s doctor or therapist if they know of any local peer support groups your child can join – your teen may need a referral from a health professional before joining. Your school counsellor or guidance teacher might also have a list of local groups or you can try searching online to find a suitable group. Do check any online groups are moderated, to keep your teen safe from online bullying.