There’s been a lot of bad news concerning teens and the Internet but finally there’s something good to report. According to a new study, many adolescents are using the Internet to research ideas on how they can improve their health.
In the first national study in more than a decade to look at how adolescents use digital tools for health information, nearly one-third of teenagers said they used online data to improve behavior — such as cutting back on drinking soda, using exercise to combat depression and trying healthier recipes — according to a study to be released Tuesday by researchers at Northwestern University.
Now that’s the kind of Internet use that makes parents let out a sigh of relief.
The study emphasizes the importance of making sure that there is accurate and easy to understand information that is available “because it’s used and acted upon,” said Ellen Wartella, director of Northwestern’s Center on Media and Human Development and lead author of the report.
While social media may be the new neighborhood community, 88 percent of the participants said they didn’t want to share their health concerns on Facebook or on one of the many other social media outlets.
“I mainly find it kind of moving, because it really illustrates that a lot of teens are grappling with very real, very important health challenges and that the Internet is empowering them with the information they need to take better care of themselves,” said Vicky Rideout, a co-author of the study.
Researchers surveyed 1,156 American teenagers between 13- and 18-years-old. Teens in English-speaking households were surveyed last fall, and those in Spanish-dominant households were surveyed in March. Eighty percent of those surveyed attended public school.
The survey explored how often teens use online tools, how much information they receive, what topics they are most concerned with, what sources they trust and whether they have changed their health behaviors as a result.
The top health topics were fitness and exercise (42 percent), diet and nutrition (36 percent), stress or anxiety (19 percent), sexually transmitted diseases (18 percent), puberty (18 percent), and depression or other mental health issues (16 percent).
While Internet health-related searchers are growing in popularity, parents are still the number one choice for teens to learn about health issues (55 percent).
The next source was health classes in school, doctors and nurses and Internet searches being the fourth most popular way to get the information they wanted.
“The Internet is not replacing parents, teachers, and doctors; it is supplementing them,” the researchers wrote.
In fact, 23 percent of teens say they have gone online to research information about a condition that affects a friend or family member. Data from the study indicates that 31 percent of low-income teens have done so, compared with 18 percent of high-income teens.
What are the top health topics teens are Googling? Fitness and exercise was number one (42 percent). Followed by diet and nutrition (36 percent). Next up was stress or anxiety (19 percent), and a few that many parents might not think of; sexually transmitted diseases (18 percent), puberty (18 percent), and depression or other mental health issues (16 percent).
The survey points out that teens may need extra attention when it comes to digital literacy skills. So many articles are wrapped in advertising that is trying to sell someone a particular weight-loss product or new diet aid. Half of teens say they usually click on the first site that comes up. Domain names that end with “.edu” are more trusted than those that end with “.com,” the survey found.
“We need to make sure there is good information for teens online,” Rideout said. Teens could be influenced by the tweets they see about e-cigarettes without realizing that a large proportion are coming from manufacturers, she said.
Still though, teens are learning a lot from the Internet; a place where they can search for answers anonymously. It’s up to parents, teachers, doctors and nurses to guide them towards websites with sound information that is based on on the kinds of websites where they can find science-centered information and helpful advice.
Source: Lena H. Sun, http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/nearly-13-of-teens-changed-health-habits-based-on-digital-search-study-finds/2015/06/01/c6679aec-0892-11e5-95fd-d580f1c5d44e_story.html