Lunch buddy mentoring program: A successful approach to working with aggressive children

Screen Shot 2013-01-12 at 4.40.26 PMCavell, T. A., & Henrie, J. L. (2010). Deconstructing serendipity: Focus, purpose, and authorship in lunch buddy mentoring. New Directions for Youth Development2010(126), 107-121.

 Background Aggressive children are at risk for problems such as delinquency, school failure, and substance abuse. In this study Cavell and Henrie (2010) evaluated a school-based prevention program for highly aggressive school-age children. They randomly assigned children to a highly structured mentoring program and, as a control condition, to a limited lunch buddy mentoring program that offered minimal training to mentors and changed children’s mentors for each of three semesters. While lunch buddy children considered their mentors as less supportive than children in the highly structured program, the authors were surprised to find that lunch buddy children showed greater gains.

Summary  The authors further explored their initial findings by carefully reading the statements that mentors made in their weekly log sheet or end-of-term papers; mentors were college students. Lunch buddy mentors reported that their visits seemed to lift their mentees’ moods and bolster their self-esteem. Consistent visits from mentors also boosted mentees’ social reputation at school, because nearby lunch-mates often inserted themselves into mentor-mentee interactions, and mentors could correct or deflect verbal bullying directed at their mentees.

Conclusion and Implications Lunch buddy mentoring was more effective in schools with greater adversity (e.g. more children on free or reduced-price lunch or higher playground aggression), and even in the condition of having different mentors in each of three semesters. This suggests that this type of mentoring can be effective even with shorter-term relationships.

Mentors can help children to decrease their deviant or hurtful behavior by ignoring it, even as peers reinforce this behavior with laughter. Mentors can also aid bullied children by bolstering their mood and self-esteem, especially in deflecting harmful statements directed toward the children. Mentors can better achieve their purpose when interactions with the mentee and nearby lunchmates are playful, supportive, and enjoyable. As one mentor put it, “Let loose, have fun, and be a tad bit goofy. Don’t be straightforward with life lessons. Just sneak them in every now and then, and they are smart enough to catch on.”