Do Youth Engage in Text Messages Added to a Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program?

A student reads text messages on her smart phone.

Methods to Assess Youth Engagement in a Text Messaging Supplement to an Effective Teen Pregnancy Program” (abstract). Sharon Devine, Caroline Leeds, Judith Shlay, Amber Leytem, Robert Beum, and Sheana Bull. Journal of Biomedical Informatics, Vol. 56, 2015.

What it’s about: In Boys and Girls Clubs of metropolitan Denver, Devine et al. investigated whether adding a text messaging element enhanced youth engagement in an evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention program (Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program, or TOP). This study, part of an ongoing four-year trial, reported on the first two years of using the text message intervention along with the TOP program in eight Boys and Girls Clubs. Two hundred twenty-one randomly assigned participants received the text message extension of the study. The majority of participants were 14 to 15 years old, Hispanic, and used mobile phones. The researchers created a text message library through focus groups and interviews with youth, and then analyzed youth’s engagement over time with the text message component of the intervention.

Why read it: Research has found that cell phones and text messaging are increasingly a major part of young people’s lives. Given the ability of technology to reach more participants in health education and prevention programs, the authors studied linking a face-to-face intervention with technology (in this case a text message supplement) in order to investigate the types of text messages that engage youth and which youth responded most to text messages. Reading the latest installment of this ongoing trial could help family and youth workers further assess the usefulness of adding a text messaging component to their programs.

Biggest takeaways from the research: The text message library contained three categories of messages:

  1. Program content (e.g., quizzes, myths/facts, polls) with messages that required a response from participants.
  2. Event-based messages (e.g., program reminders).
  3. Responses to questions from participants and provision of support to participants.

Overall, the authors reported sending over 40,000 text messages, with an average participant receiving 74.6 messages. They found that 40% responded to 10 or more messages, 19.8% responded to between four and nine messages, and 18.5% did not respond. Participants responded to messages requiring a response an average of 12.5 times.

The authors indicate several key findings:

  • Questions, quizzes, club reminders, polls, and myths/facts received the most responses.
  • Older teens (ages 16 to 18), Hispanic participants, and females responded more frequently to text messages than other groups.

Devine and colleagues emphasize that knowing who responds to text messages and the type of text messages that receive the most responses can inform development of appropriate text message content for health programs. They state that in order for a text message intervention to be successful, it needs to be developed with youth and youth need to be engaged with it. The authors highlight that youth do engage with text message programming in a teen pregnancy prevention program, and the next study related to the four-year trial will look at how exposure to the text message component may reduce sexual risk and improve school performance. They suggest further analysis of the degree to which engagement with text messages is needed to positively affect the intervention.

Additional references: Look for more articles about text messages and youth or technology and youth in our digital library.

Learn more about texting for teen health.

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, or the Administration for Children and Families.

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