Text Messaging and Teen Pregnancy Prevention: A Win-Win Intervention
By Tiffany M. Montgomery, MSN, RNC-OB, C-EFM, TeenNow California Member
Teen pregnancy is a health disparity that affects an exceptionally vulnerable population. Teen girls with ethnic minority backgrounds are doubly vulnerable. Because of their gender, age, and minority status, these teens are vulnerable on many different fronts. There have been many successful teen pregnancy prevention programs implemented and to their success, the teen pregnancy rates are continuing to decline. Still, healthcare professionals, parents, teachers, and other adults who often interact with teens have a lot of work to do in the area of teen pregnancy prevention. Although our rates of teen pregnancy are the lowest in United States history, we continue to have the second highest teen pregnancy rates in the industrialized world (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2011a).
The CDC (2011b) has initiated a campaign to utilize social media as a forum for communication about teen pregnancy and increased public engagement. There are recommendations for the use of Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds, podcasts, online video sharing, and mobile technologies (i.e. text messaging and mobile applications [apps]) as teen pregnancy prevention interventions, in addition the use of social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter. The CDC’s support of technology in teen pregnancy prevention interventions makes complete sense once we realize just how popular technology has become among teens.
According to a 2010 report on adolescent cell phone use, 88% of teens with cell phones use their phones for text messaging (Lenhart). The rates of text messaging increase with age and are higher among teen girls than among teen boys; the mean number of text messages sent and received by teen girls is 125 texts per day while teen boys text on average 101 times daily (Lenhart, 2010). African-American teens have the highest rates of text messaging in the U.S., followed by Hispanic teens and non-Hispanic White teens (Lenhart, 2010). As it relates to teen pregnancy, Hispanic teens have the highest rates, followed by African-American teens and non-Hispanic White teens (Pazol et al., 2011). The high rates of teen pregnancy among Hispanic, African-American, and non-Hispanic White teens in conjunction with their high rates of text messaging present the perfect rationale for the use of text messaging as an intervention to decrease teen pregnancy.
In the state of North Carolina, the BrdsNBz text messaging program was established in 2009 to provide adolescents ages 14- to 19-years-old with medically sound information pertaining to their sexual health (Phillips, 2010). The aim of the program is to increase teens’ knowledge, awareness, and quality of life through the reduction of unintended pregnancies and STDs (Phillips, 2010). Teens initiate the first text message and a representative from the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of Northern Carolina responds within 24 hours. The program is advertised on various teen health websites and through purchased advertisements on MySpace and non-profit organizations. The program, one of the only of its kind at its inception, has received national attention from those who would like to replicate the program in their own states or regions (Phillips, 2010). Findings from formative program studies showed that teens were more likely to follow-up on information received through the BrdsNBz program than information received from school, home, or the community (Phillips, 2010).
Since the creation of the BrdsNBz text messaging program, many other text messaging programs have been implemented to combat high-risk teen sexual behaviors in general and more specifically to target teen pregnancy:
- Alexandria Campaign on Adolescent Pregnancy—text “SEX” to 30644 to receive a response to your questions on sex, relationships, and teen pregnancy within 24 hours.
- BrdsNBz—text a question regarding sex and relationships to 36263. Be sure to type “NC” before your question.
- Hookup—text “HOOKUP” to 61827 to receive weekly automated text messages containing information on sex and life and to find a sexual health clinic in your zip code.
- SexInfo—text “SEXINFO” to 36617 to receive a list of codes to text back based on the topic of concern.
- The SexEd Loop—text “SEXEDLOOP” to 61827 to receive weekly text messages on sexual education.
Text messaging services can be accessed anywhere at any time and they are virtually cost-free (normal text messaging rates will apply). These programs, located throughout the U.S. are available for the use of teens in any region of the country and not only those who live in the state in which the program headquarters are located. When teens feel they can’t come to the adults in their lives, we can point them in the direction of services that can help them with their questions and not simply leave them to figure everything out on their own. We can encourage teens to utilize the programs above and other reputable text messages services so that they receive accurate information on teen pregnancy and pregnancy prevention. Through the use of text messages programs that address sexual health, we can be confident that the teens in our lives are receiving the appropriate information, even when that information does not come directly from us.
Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campiagn on North Carolina. (2012). BrdsNBz text message warm line. Retrieved from http://appcnc.org/brdsnbz-text-message-warm-line
Alexandria Campaign on Adolescent Pregnancy. (2012). About ACAP: Text message line. Retrieved from http://keepit360.org/About/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011a). Health disparities and inequalities report. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/minorityhealth/CHDIReport.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011b). Teen pregnancy and socail media. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/TeenPregnancy/SocialMedia/index.htm
Internet Sexuality Inormation Services. (2012). ISIS projects. Retrieved from http://www.isis-inc.org/contactus.php
Lenhart, A. (2010). Teens and cell phones. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved from http://pewinternet.org/~/media//Files/Reports/2010/PIP-Teens-and-Mobile-2010-with-topline.pdf
Pazol, K., Warner, L., Gavin, L., Callaaghan, W. M., Spitz, A. M., Anderson, . . . Kann, L. (2011). Vital signs: Teen pregnancy — United States, 1991–2009 (Vol. 60, pp. 414-420).
Phillips, K. R. (2010). BrdsNBz: a text-messaging forum for improving the sexual health of adolescents in North Carolina. North Carolina Medical Journal, 71(4), 368-371.
The SexEd Loop. The talk: By teens, for teens. Retrieved from http://sexedloop.sexetc.org/