Study Shows Teens Use the Internet to Develop Healthier Habits

Teens Conduct Health Research Online
Westend61 / Brand X Pictures / Getty Images

While there are plenty of studies that warn against the dangers of teens using the Internet for unhealthy behavior – cyberbullying, sexting, posting constant selfies – there’s new evidence that shows teens are also using the Internet to improve their health.

Research Says Teens Want Information About Health Issues

A national study conducted by researchers at Northwestern University reveals that teenagers are conducting online research about health issues.

Nearly one-third of them report changing their behavior  – such as reducing their soda consumption or exercising to reduce depression – based on their findings.

Just over a quarter of teens report using the Internet to gain insight into health conditions affecting family or friends. While one teen said she wanted to learn more about her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, another teen said she wanted to find out what foods could help lower her mother’s high blood pressure.

Almost half the teens said they want to take a proactive and preventive approach to health care. Fitness and nutrition were the top issues they research online. Other common research topics included STDs, puberty, and mental health issues. Surprisingly, only 13% of teens said they turn to the Internet to research topics they’re uncomfortable talking to their parents about.

The Unhealthy Research Teens Conduct

The study also examined the not-so-healthy things teens are also researching online.

Approximately one in four teens report viewing negative information online. Here are a few of the unhealthy things teens are looking up online:

  • 43% said they’d seen pornography online
  • 27% researched how to play drinking games
  • 25% looked up how to get tobacco or nicotine products
  • 17% explored how to be anorexic or bulimic
  • 14% investigated how to make or purchase illegal drugs

How to Encourage Your Teen to Use the Internet to Get Healthy

Since teens are interested in gaining health information online, it’s important to talk about how to use that information wisely. Here are some tips for helping your teen use the Internet to get healthy:

  • Talk about credible information sources. Explain how search engines may display popular articles, which may or may not be credible. Sometimes teens incorrectly assume that any articles appearing on the first page their search will be from reputable sources. Discuss how to identify sites and articles written by experts and warn your teen that some sites — like social media outlets and certain blogs — may not offer the most accurate information.
  • Warn against advertisements. Teens often have difficulty recognizing the difference between a paid advertisements and content contained within a website. Show your teen how to recognize advertisements and talk about why the information contained in an advertisement may be less credible than the content created by a an unbiased source.
  • Educate your teen about scams. Teens need to know about Internet scams. Teach your teen to recognize websites that are looking to steal personal information and discuss how to recognize spam.
  • Get familiar with the technology your teen uses. There are multiple tools teens use to gain information about health, including mobile apps, digital games, and wearable digital health devices. Familiarize yourself with the various ways your teen is gaining health information so you can provide appropriate education and warnings.
  • Make getting healthy a family activity. Create healthy goals together as a family and then find ways to work together to meet those goals. A fitness app that lets you keep track of your steps each day, for example, could stir up some healthy competition as the whole family strives to get active.

Continue Reading