We are most affected by people around us. Critical feedback from someone you know and trust means much more than feedback from someone you don’t know. The two biggest influences on a child’s development are their parents and their peers, both of whom shape a person’s character and habits. When kids are told what to do by their parents, they often respond in a negative way. A study done by the Iranian Journal of Public Health showed adolescents naturally tend to resist any dominant source of authority such as parents and prefer to socialize more with their peers than with their families.1 Being given commands by an adult can feel demeaning. However, feedback from a peer, someone with similar age, background, social status, or interests, seems much more honest and leads the child to be more likely to listen. We are much more amicable to people like ourselves and children are no different. Research suggests that adolescents are more likely to modify their behaviors and attitudes if they receive health messages from peers who face similar concerns and pressures.1 The people that can inspire change in an individual’s behavior aren’t the student’s parent or teacher but rather their peers.
As Project32 has worked to empower youth to take care of their long-term oral health, we have noticed the effectiveness of peer-to-peer education in many scenarios. When kids are told to brush their teeth by a dentist or a parent, they may listen to them in the short-term, but following commands doesn’t inspire them to build good oral hygiene habits that will last a lifetime. However, if a friend tells them to brush their teeth more or their breath stinks, although it may be embarrassing, the child would be more likely to take the feedback to heart and build good oral hygiene habits. While a parent may be able to micromanage a kid’s first few years of life, there comes a time where the parent just doesn’t have enough time to advise the child at every step in their life. And so the child must look towards their peers for advice and growth.Project32 has acknowledged and embraced this fact. By having youth volunteers work directly with youth, Project32 focuses on using a peer-to-peer model to teach children to take care of their teeth. By teaching just one kid, we are teaching a hundred more. For example, during Project32’s workshop in Chajul, Guatemala, founder Avi Gupta taught a young child how to brush his teeth. The child ran off to teach his mother how to brush her teeth. Without a doubt, this child will teach others in his village how to take care of their teeth. This child demonstrated peer education; a system of delivering knowledge that improves social learning and provides psychosocial support.1 Peer education is one of the goals of Project32. We acknowledge we can’t directly teach all 7 billion people on this Earth how to take care of their teeth. However, we teach youth who will share their knowledge with the people around them. By focusing on youth and using a peer-to-peer education, Project32 builds more effective long-term habits in individual kids, and plants the seeds for long-term community change.
- Abdi, Fatemeh and Masoumeh Simbar. “The Peer Education Approach in Adolescent- Narrative Review Article Iranian Journal of public health vol. 42, 11 (2013): 1200-6.