Adolescence can be a challenging time for teens as they face dramatic physical and psychological developments. On top of that they may also have health concerns to add to their worries. With increasing Internet access, it seems that more young people are also going online to answer their health queries.
According to a survey of American teenagers between 13 and 18 years of age conducted by Northwestern University researchers, 84% of teens turn to the internet when looking for answers to a health problem. Their searches include want for information on puberty, drugs, sex and depression. However, 88% said they do not feel comfortable sharing their health concerns with Facebook friends or on other social networking sites.
This data could be useful in helping public health organizations reach out to adolescents in more effective ways. Researchers found that teens also often took positive steps to be healthier once they researched online. Almost one third of the participants said the online information led to behaviour changes, such as cutting back on soda, trying healthier recipes and using exercise to combat depression.
“We found some real surprises about what teens are doing online when it comes to their health,” said Ellen Wartella, director of Northwestern’s Center on Media and Human Development and lead author of the report. “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 study underscores 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,” Wartella added.
Nevertheless, parents are still the most important source of information for over half of American teens, followed by health classes at school, then medical providers. The Internet is a source of “a lot” of information for only 1 in 4 teens.
However, looking at the Indian context, parents, schools and even medical providers may be poor sources of information on matters of sex and health-related matters. While the Internet could be a possible source of information, there is the matter of availability and online literacy. There are many sites that promote an agenda, provide false information or peddle dubious products.
“The Internet is clearly empowering teens to protect their health,” said Vicky Rideout, head of VJR Consulting and a co-author of the report. “But we need to make sure they are equipped with the digital literacy skills to successfully navigate this online landscape.”
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