Standardizing and Evaluating the "Presenter" Variable in the Peer vs. Adult Debate in Youth Drug Prevention Research

By Hobson, Charles J.; McCarthy, Heather et al. | Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education, April 2009 | Go to article overview

Standardizing and Evaluating the "Presenter" Variable in the Peer vs. Adult Debate in Youth Drug Prevention Research


Hobson, Charles J., McCarthy, Heather, Murff, Sherice, Thomas, Adrienne, Rosetti, Desila, Murillo, Natalie G., Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education


ABSTRACT

A "train-the-trainer" workshop was developed to evaluate and enhance presentational skills and offered to 14 youth in grades 6-12 and 9 administrators from youth-focused community agencies in Indiana. Upon workshop completion, 7 youth and 6 adults functioned as presenters of a 1 1/2-hour module on refusal and resistance skills to 95 youth enrolled in after-school programs. Attendees completed a 5-item pre-/post-test of knowledge acquisition, a 5-item survey of perceived training effectiveness, and a 12-item measure of perceived trainer effectiveness. Findings indicated: (1) Both youth and adult train-the-trainer workshop participants demonstrated significant presentational competence gains and (2) trained presenters (both peer and adult) using standardized materials and delivery received consistently favorable evaluations.

INTRODUCTION

The impact of the leader or presenter in providing drug prevention education programs to school-age youth has been investigated for nearly three decades. Much of the research in this area has centered on the relative effectiveness of peer-led versus adult-led approaches (Cuijpers, 2002).

The term "peer-led" typically refers to programs that are presented to young people by individuals who are the same age or slightly older. The rationale for the superiority of peers, as compared to adults, is based upon Bandura's social learning theory (1976, 1986). Within the framework of this model the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of young people are predicted to be primarily determined by members of their peer group. The social development model formulated by Catalano and Hawkins (1996) also posits that peer influence increases as children enter and progress through adolescence.

Building upon this foundation, peer-led programs have been widely utilized in a variety of ways in educational systems (Lindsey, 1997). While there are indications that support for peer-led programs may be uncritical and not evidence-based (Health Education Authority, 1993), three recent reviews have thoroughly examined and summarized research on this topic, within the context of drug prevention programs aimed at school-age youth (Cuijpers, 2002; Mellanby, Rees, & Tripp, 2000; Tobler, Roona, Ochshorn, Marshall, Streke, & Stackpole, 2000).

Mellanby et al. (2000) used the voting counting method to analyze the findings of 13 studies involving peers or adults delivering the same educational material on school health. Ten of these studies dealt specifically with drug prevention. The authors addressed comparative improvements in knowledge, attitudes, and behavior.

Tobler et al. (2000) employed meta-analysis to examine the results of 144 studies involving 207 school-based drug prevention programs that were offered by peers, teachers, or clinicians. Program content was not held constant in comparing the three delivery agent categories in terms of their impact on youth behavior.

Cuijpers (2002) identified 12 studies in which identical drug prevention programs were offered by peers and adults. Meta-analysis was utilized to evaluate the comparative impact of the two delivery agent categories on youth behavior.

By combining and integrating the conclusions from the above three literature reviews, the following summary statements can be reasonably made. First, all of the reviewers noted serious methodological problems with existing research. Most importantly, they included: (1) lack of standardized training/preparation for presenters prior to delivery of drug prevention programs; (2) uncontrolled variation in program content; (3) absence of experimental control over program delivery; and (4) failure to appropriately use random assignment of subjects to experimental groups, using in some cases school classes instead. Taken together, these critical deficiencies make precise, definitive comparisons between peer and adult presenters virtually impossible. …

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