Strengthening Peer-to-Peer Relationships

Current and Recent Projects


Strengthening peer to peer relationships is a major focus of Search Institute’s Relationships for Outcomes Initiative. The partnership focuses on co-creating and testing innovative ways to strengthen the developmental relationships that young people in marginalized communities experience in their schools, programs, and families.

Relationships with friends and other peers are critical resources in multiple areas of youth development. These relationships are a foundational development of social-emotional strengths that support overall development and thriving. They can also protect youth in the face of diverse challenges, such as bullying and academic stress as well as more complex social dynamics, such as structural inequities in communities and society.

Search Institute views peer-to-peer relationships as an integral part of young people’s web of developmental relationships. Our research and development efforts focus on understanding the dynamics of these relationships, their role in positive development and thriving, and how they can best be enhanced in schools and other programs.

Dr. Barbara B. Varenhorst

Search Institute’s strategic focus on peer relationships builds on the passion and legacy of the late Dr. Barbara Varenhorst (1928 – 2021). Dr. Varenhorst was one of the founders of the peer helping movement and a long-time Search Institute board member and partner. Barbara was instrumental in designing and launching Search Institute’s strategic focus on peer relationships as part of our broader developmental relationships agenda. She wrote Search Institute’s resource, Training Peer Helpers: Coaching Youth to Communicate, Solve Problems, and Make Decisions.

Equipping Young People to Build Life-Changing Relationships

Search Institute is engaged in a multi-phased research and development initiative focused on understanding the dynamics of peer relationships and how peer programs in schools and other settings effectively strengthen peer relationships. This ongoing study involves:

  • Conducting structured interviews and focus groups in peer programs across the United States to learn more about the role of positive peer relationships and document their impact.
  • Developing tools and services to support programs in being more intentional in building and measuring young people’s peer relationships.
  • Testing the effectiveness of tools and programs in strengthening relationships as a critical factor in program impact.

Funding Partner: Esther Ting Foundation

Infinite Paths to Peace Youth Leadership Initiative

Search Institute is partnering with the Shinnyo-en Foundation to strengthen leadership development opportunities for Shinnyo-en youth and young adults to become leaders for peace in their communities across the United States. This partnership has included:

  • In-depth interviews and focus groups with Shinnyo-en young people about their understanding of leadership as a relational practice; and
  • Design and testing of leadership development retreats for young people.

This effort is part of the foundation’s Infinite Paths to Peace initiative.

Partner: Shinnyo-en Foundation

Related Research and Resources