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What Teens Are Really Searching for Online

Face it. We're all curious (and highly suspicious) about what our teens are using the Internet for. Personally, my biggest fears are porn, drug recipes from "Breaking Bad" and some sort of portal where they could link my credit card to their Forever 21 account. But I'm a little relieved to see that current research is showing that more teens are using the Internet to improve their health habits. Who knew?

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According to a new study by Northwestern University, almost one-third of teens are using online resources to seek out information about health-related issues like dealing with depression, eating healthier and cutting back on their soda intake. Because there's only so much Mountain Dew you can drink before you stop and say to yourself, "Hmmm, this looks like anti-freeze and might be destroying my insides."

For every factual, well-balanced article about the importance of sleep for teens, there are those that claim that tampons contain asbestos or that lipgloss causes cancer.

The national study—the first of its kind in more than a decade—also brings up the importance of making sure that the resources our teens are turning to are legitimate and the information they are finding is accurate. For every factual, well-balanced article about the importance of sleep for teens, there are those that claim that tampons contain asbestos or that lipgloss causes cancer. I even remember hearing one crazy rumor that eating red licorice could make you smarter, which is ridiculous since everyone knows only drinking more coffee can do that.

But the report also highlights the importance of good old-fashioned human interaction when it comes to making sure your teens have the right information. The Washington Post points out that teens still look to their parents first when they have health concerns, followed by doctors and nurses:

"Parents remain by far the leading source of health information, with 55 percent of teens surveyed saying they got 'a lot' of health information from parents, followed by health classes in school and doctors and nurses. But the Internet is the fourth-largest source of health information, far outstripping all other media, such as books, television news, radio, and newspaper and magazine articles. Eighty-four percent of teens said they turned to the Internet for health information."

Even more reassuring: A very small number of teens—13 percent—indicated that they couldn't talk to their parents about health concerns and needed to turn to the Internet to find answers.

As for which health topics teens are specifically looking for, it breaks down like this:

  • Fitness and exercise (42 percent)
  • Diet and nutrition (36 percent)
  • Stress or anxiety (19 percent)
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (18 percent)
  • Puberty (18 percent)
  • Depression or other mental health issues (16 percent)

Another important thing the study reminds us to educate our teens about is the difference between factual content and advertising. Half of the teens surveyed said they click on the first link that comes up, which is usually a sponsored link. I'm going to keep this in mind, since while I really enjoy a good hot dog now and then, I certainly don't want Oscar Meyer doling out healthy eating advice to my kid.

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The bottom line is, amidst all of our concerns that our teens are only using the Internet for evil, it can also be a great resource for them to seek out answers to some issues that are part of their world. So the next time they're ignoring you and burying their face in their phone, relax—they might just be looking for kale recipes.

Image via Twenty20/thcrudele

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