Candice Odgers
Candice Odgers will text message Orange County kids for insight into situations that expose them to drugs and alcohol. Daniel A. Anderson / University Communications

Candice Odgers will get a rare glimpse into preteen decision making about drugs and alcohol via an unconventional research tool: text messaging.

Using cell phones to follow kids in real time, Odgers will determine settings in which they’re most likely to encounter these substances and help officials develop more effective intervention programs and public health policies.

“A lot can happen in a day or week of a child’s life,” says Odgers, UC Irvine assistant professor of psychology & social behavior. “Children making the transition from elementary school to middle school undergo huge developmental and emotional changes and often are confronted with drugs and alcohol for the first time.”

Odgers will give the smartphones to 200 children ages 10 to 13 attending Costa Mesa and Santa Ana schools and send them-via text-two surveys daily. The study will begin this summer and is expected to last five years.

“Typical substance abuse research involves interviewing kids once a year and asking them to recall their actions and decisions,” Odgers says. “This effort will help us understand their world in real time.”

The study is funded with $350,000 from the William T. Grant Scholars Program, which supports research to improve the lives of U.S. youth ages 8 to 25.