“I had irritation in my special ‘no-no’ place. And that was a question that I wasn’t going to ask my mom.”
– Sheaele, Age 17
So where do teenagers like Sheaele turn when they want a health question answered? Sometimes friends, sometimes teachers… and according to a new survey, nearly half of teens are now going to the Internet to look for medical information.
“If it was a personal problem that I didn’t feel comfortable talking to anybody about, I would probably just look it up online,” says 18-year-old Joe.
But the information teens find on web sites may not always be accurate. Experts say to help a child avoid bad information, parents should do their own search of teen-friendly medical web sites.
Check them out. Then suggest the ones you like to your teen.
“Internet sites that do that, just give clear health information … I think that would be probably a good idea,” says Dr. Dawn Swaby-Ellis, a pediatrician.
But experts have an even better idea for parents: Find a real-life doctor their teen can trust.
“The best guarantee for growing up a healthy, secure, communicative adolescent is for that adolescent to have a constant relationship with a health practitioner over time,” says Dr. Swaby-Ellis.
Because while a doctor can promise teens the privacy they want, unlike the Internet, a doctor can also alert parents in the case of a serious health issue.
“If there’s anything at all that we hear, during an interview with a child alone that sounds like they’re in trouble,” says Swaby-Ellis, then we’ll certainly let (the parent) know.”
Tips for Parents
Previous studies have found that over 60 million Americans use the Internet for health and medical information. Teens make up a sizeable portion of this number; the Project estimates 45% of all children under the age of 18 have Internet access.
Health-related web sites that targeted teens are appearing on the Internet. Sites such as:
THINK (Teenage Health Interactive Network)
These sites are like interactive magazines written specifically for teens. Headlines from a recent ZapHealth page include: “My Friend's Acne” and “Guilt about Drinking.” Other topics on the site include “getting the dirt on important issues like kissing, piercing and buying condoms.”
In addition to articles, these web sites offer:
Information and advice on general, sexual and emotional health
Information on fitness and sports
Chat rooms where teens can talk with others with similar concerns
Bulletin boards where teens can post questions and receive answers from health care professionals
Links to other resources
It’s easy, quick and convenient. An added appeal of these sites is that teens can get information anonymously, without having to talk to anyone. The Pew Project says that 16% of web health seekers do so to get information about a sensitive health topic that is difficult to talk about.
Although a teen can get answers to some questions on these sites, the sites caution teens that they are not a substitute for regular healthcare; teens should see their healthcare providers as needed.
ZapHealth also urges children under 18 to talk with their parents or guardians about any health or emotional issues.
The Pew Internet and American Life Project