The Duo Behind Many Effective Teen Programs

What works in efforts to reduce unintended pregnancy among young people? In a 2001 report, Emerging Answers: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy, Douglas Kirby reviewed 73 studies that evaluated various types of risk reduction programs for adolescents. In a viewpoint published later that year in Perspectives, Kirby drew on his findings to speculate that a simple conceptual framework based on social norms and connectedness underlies many effective programs. Specifically, adolescents’ behavior is influenced by the social norms of groups with which they are connected (e.g., the values their peer group expresses regarding sex or contraceptive use), by how closely connected they are to those groups and by the interaction of the two. Thus, according to this framework, effective programs to reduce teen pregnancy tend to promote clear messages about avoiding unprotected sex and create a sense of connectedness with the targeted adolescents. Kirby concluded that although “no single theory can explain all findings on adolescent sexual behavior,” the constructs of social norms and connectedness “appear remarkably powerful.” He suggested that measuring those constructs better and focusing on them more might “lead to the development of still more effective programs.”

Cover illustrations of Margaret Sanger © Matthew and Eve Levine