Teens trust parents over tech for health answers

June 4, 2015

Adolescents may use the Internet to search for information about general health topics, but they turn to their parents for trusted answers to questions about their own health issues, says a report from Northwestern University’s Center on Media and Human Development.

Adolescents may use the Internet to search for information about general health topics, but they turn to their parents for trusted answers to questions about their own health issues, says a report from Northwestern University’s Center on Media and Human Development.

University investigators surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1156 US adolescents aged 13 to 18 years to document how they used digital health technology tools such as the Internet, mobile apps, social media, electronic gaming, and wearable fitness devices to obtain health information and whether they changed their behavior because of these tools. The survey also looked at whether the participants trusted the online health sites they found and if they were satisfied with the information available.

Read: "Is my kid ready for a smartphone?"

Among the teenagers surveyed, 84% said they used online sources of health information, more than books, television news and radio, newspapers, and magazines; 21% used mobile apps; 12% used digital games on health; and 7% used wearable digital health devices.

Surprisingly, parents ranked as the most trusted source of information about health questions for their teenagers: 57% of survey respondents said they were “very” satisfied with health information received from their parents, followed by 54% for information from doctors and nurses, 38% from health classes in school, and 24% from the Internet. Teenagers who were dissatisfied with health information they found online indicated that there was too much conflicting information (42%) or that the information did not appear to be reliable (40%).

NEXT: WHAT HEALTH TOPICS DO TEENS SEARCH FOR MOST?

 

 

Among these online health seekers, 53% said they did so as research for a school assignment, but 45% said they looked for health information online to learn how to take better care of themselves. Only 13% said they turned to the Internet for information on sensitive health issues that they would be uncomfortable discussing with their parents.

Almost one-third of teenagers surveyed said they changed their health-related behavior because of online health information or digital health tools. Among the topics researched most frequently were fitness and exercise (42%); diet and nutrition (36%); stress or anxiety (19%); sexually transmitted diseases, puberty (18% each); depression, mental health, sleep (16% each); substance abuse, hygiene, colds/flu, birth control, cancer (12% each).

More: Using tech to fight kids' obesity

However, survey respondents also used the Internet to search for “negative” health information, such as pornography (43%); drinking games (27%); tobacco or nicotine products (25%); anorexia and bulimia (17%); and illegal drugs (14%).

The researchers say their survey data show that the Internet is not replacing parents and healthcare professionals as sources of trusted health information for teenagers but rather supplementing them. They also point out that teaching digital health literacy skills will enable teenagers to arm themselves with the accurate health information they need to take charge of their personal health.