Ability to measure sensitive adolescent behaviors via telephone

Bradley O. Boekeloo, Lisa A. Schamus, Samuel J. Simmens, Tina L. Cheng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Introduction: Difficulty in measuring sensitive behaviors in 12-15- year-old adolescents is a barrier to research. This study determined whether early adolescents reported substance use and sexual activity similarly in assisted paper-and-pencil versus touch-tone telephone responses. Methods: Adolescents 12-15 years old completed confidential, interviewer-assisted questionnaires first in a physician office by paper-and-pencil and then at home by touch-tone approximately 3 months later. Adolescents were from a high-risk urban area, 71% were minority, and all had parent consent to participate. Results: The follow-up participation rate was 94% (follow-up n = 207). Test-retest stability was generally poor for low-frequency behaviors such as injection drug use, anal intercourse, and sexual behaviors in 12-13- year-olds. Test-retest stability was fair to good for common substance use items. Test-retest stability was generally good among females and 14-15- year-old adolescents, and poor to fair among males and 12-13-year-olds, for common sexual experiences in the last 3 months. Test-retest stability was generally good to excellent for all lifetime sexual experiences except among 12-13-year-olds in which it was generally poor. Internal consistency of the self-esteem scale was high using both response technologies. Both response technologies reproduced correlations between substance use and lifetime sexual experience. Conclusion: A high participation rate and reliable data capture were achieved when assessing sensitive behaviors of 14-15-year-olds using touch-tone telephone response. Sexual behaviors were more reliably captured using a 'lifetime' versus 'last 3-month' reference period. Low prevalence contributed to poor reliability in 12-13-year-olds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-216
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican journal of preventive medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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