New research shows that parents' fears about their teens and the internet may be well overblown. Many are actually switching to healthier habits after consulting the Web.
The new study, the first in more than a decade to examine how teens use online tools for health information, almost one third of teenagers said they used online tools to improve behavior, like cutting back on drinking soda, using exercise to fight depression and trying healthier recipes.
The study was released Tuesday by researchers at Northwestern University.
The study debunks the myth of “all the negative things kids are doing online,” while highlighting the importance of making sure there is accurate, and easily reachable information available to teens, “because it’s used and acted upon,” said Ellen Wartella, lead author of the report.
Teens, nearly one-quarter of them, also look for information on health conditions affecting friends or family. Yet a surprising 88 percent said they did not feel comfortable sharing their health concerns with friends on Facebook or other social media, which shows the issues are deeply personal.
“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, an author of the study.
While the internet is quickly becoming a vital tool, parents are still the leading source of health information, with 55 percent of teens saying they got “a lot” of health information from parents.
While not surprising that teens rely on their parents for health information what is surprising is that only a small number, 13 percent, said they turned to the Internet because they couldn't talk to a parent.
“The Internet is not replacing parents, teachers, and doctors; it is supplementing them,” the researchers wrote.
The conclusion fits with what retailers and media companies are seeing: Consumers are using smartphones and the internet to augment traditional channel, such as in-store retail or television, not replace it.
More devices mean more crosschecking and referencing, not fully replacing traditional sources.