Framework for Supporting Adolescent Peer Leaders: A Pilot Using Text Messaging in a School-Based Substance Use Prevention Program

J Prim Prev. 2019 Apr;40(2):243-254. doi: 10.1007/s10935-019-00545-4.


Training peer leaders (PLs) as implementation agents is a state-of-the-art approach in prevention, but the field lacks frameworks for providing support. Text messaging, a powerful tool for direct intervention, may be useful in this regard. We introduce a conceptual framework for engaging, retaining, and educating adolescent PLs and conduct a pilot test of this framework using text messages for delivery to middle school PLs in a new, peer-led substance use prevention program. Fifty eighth-graders were recruited as PLs. We used a newly-developed framework to create text messages to strengthen peer leaders': (a) mission, agency, and team identity; (b) connection to adult mentors; (c) content knowledge and application to their own lives; and (d) preparation for prevention activities. Thirty-four texts were sent to PLs over 4 months. PL replies and participation were recorded to track engagement. Forty-one PLs (71%) received texts and completed baseline and post-program surveys. Parents and school staff completed post-program questionnaires. Eighty-five percent of PLs responded to at least one text message. Response rates for specific messages varied from 22 to 56%. Students were most likely to reply to texts about preparation for their own prevention activities in the school. Ninety-five percent of PLs said they read messages even when they did not reply. Eighty-three percent of PLs said the messages helped them accomplish their mission. PLs reported that they wanted to receive messages in the future. PL attendance had very little variability in two of the three schools, but replies to texts were associated with better attendance in one school. Our study provides a framework for supporting adolescent peer leaders in a network intervention. Automated text messaging supporting middle school PLs was feasible, engaging, and well-received. Texting activity was associated with participation in school-based activities. Future priorities include systematically varying text support to determine its true effect on implementation and on involvement by less engaged PLs.

Keywords: Implementation support; Peer leaders; Pilot; Substance use prevention; Text messaging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leadership*
  • Male
  • New York
  • Peer Group*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Program Development
  • Program Evaluation
  • School Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Text Messaging*