A new study has found that most teens, more than four out of five, look for medical health answers on the Internet. However, teens are often skeptical of the online information they encounter.
Brad Broker, writing for Physicians News Digest, says teens shared that they get most of their health-related information from their parents.
Northwest University researchers surveyed 1,156 US teens between 13 and 18 to find out how they use digital tools for health information. “Teens, Health and Technology” was presented in Washington, D.C. this week at a policy conference. It found that adults (77%) and teens (84%) use the Internet as a general medical resource, but adults tend to search for information about specific diseases, treatments, and background or contact information for doctors. Last year, highly-searched topics included cancer, ALS, and ebola.
Teenagers, on the other hand, searched for topics more important to themselves and their peers, like exercise, diet, stress, sexually transmitted diseases, puberty, sleep, and depression.
Ellen Wartella, director of Northwestern’s Center on Media and Human Development and lead author of the report, said, “We often hear about all the negative things kids are doing online, but teens are using the Internet to take care of themselves and others around them. The new report shows how important it is to make sure there is accurate, appropriate and easily accessible information available to teens, because it’s used and acted upon.”
Of the kids who have searched the Internet, only 24% are “very satisfied” with what they discovered. 57% said they are more satisfied with information they receive from their parents, and 54% trusted health care providers, according to the report.
For overall satisfaction with medical resources, 38% of teenagers are “very satisfied” with information from school health classes. The Internet came in at sixth place for trusted medical resources for teens. In spite of that, 82% of teenagers say they are “somewhat satisfied” with online information they have obtained. Researchers said, “The Internet is not replacing parents, teachers, and doctors; it is supplementing them.”
A blog written by Jan Hoffman for The New York Times quotes Wartella:
“Teenagers want to be more private and don’t want others to know what they’re searching about.”
The report showed that a third of teens looked for health information when they were affected by a health issue, and a quarter headed to the Internet to learn more about a sickness or an injury. One in three said they changed their behavior due to what they learned online.
“Everyone thinks teens don’t talk to their parents, but if they’re really worried about their symptoms, they’ll go to them,” said Marguerita Lightfoot, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who researches health behaviors among young adults.
Still, 41% searched online for topics like drinking games and how to be anorexic or bulimic. Forty-three percent said they had visited pornographic sites.
Poorer teens were less likely to have the technology for researching health problems. Only 44% of the low-income teenagers who responded to the survey had smartphones, while 69% of wealthier teens had phones.
CNN reports that a Google search can be an extremely important tool for teens.
“The teenage years are … a time when young people grapple with a tangle of health concerns, many uniquely important during these particular years of life,” says the study. “From puberty, hygiene and childhood obesity in the early years, to sexual activity, drugs and alcohol in the later years, teens must traverse a landscape replete with significant new health challenges — often while coping with substantial amounts of stress and sleep deprivation.”