Teens go online to get answers on health



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Posted on August 9, 2011 at 5:20 AM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 9 at 7:47 AM

Tap, tap, tap.

The sound of fingers hitting keyboards echoed in the seventh grade health class. The young teens were researching everything from sleep issues, to drugs to mental health, 

"Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism," were other conditions they wanted to know about said their teacher, Amy Miller. She was supervising the research.

"I said no Wikipedia. And why did I say that? Because it's not reliable," she explained to the kids.

This past school year, Miller made a point of teaching her seventh graders how to find information based on solid research.

"They are getting so much from the Internet, so it's important they know how to access accurate health information," she said.

Dr. Leslie Walker, Chief of Adolescent Medicine at Seattle Children's, said parents might not realize their teens are searching online for health answers.

"Out of every ten kids, three of them are saying they're going to the Internet for health information. And that's a lot of kids," she emphasized.

She said for kids who want to know more about topics ranging from diet to fitness to sexual health, there are helpful sites, such as the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine. Another is the award winning KidsHealth.org, with it's own teen health section.

But Dr. Walker said there are also negative, even dangerous websites.

"When we have a young girl who comes in with a new eating disorder problem like anorexia or bulimia, we typically ask them to stop looking on the Internet," she said.

Dr. Walker feels that for some teens, the Internet can be a great resource.

"For some kids, I think it's an amazingly good thing, because they don't have the ability to talk to their parents. They may be embarrassed. They may have issues they feel are confidential and they don't want to talk to their parents," said Walker.

"Everything you need to know about sprained ankles by me," said presenter David Morgan as he showed his research to his classmates.

The students found their grade depended on choosing sites wisely.

"You don't want to go to some website that gives you wrong information. You don't know what you're talking about," said Morgan.

"I think the most reputable sources are sites that have dot gov or dot org," offered classmate Jackson Mills.

Dr. Walker said parents should help their own kids choose with care, too.

"I think in the beginning, when kids are online, the parents should be with them. They should have an idea of what kinds of sites the kids are looking at," she suggested.

Dr. Walker even had this tip for parents. She said use your teens' communication style. Shoot them a link to your favorite health site on their email or Facebook.

Dr. Walker's picks

Dr. Walker offered more websites for parents and teens who want accurate helpful information on reproductive health.

Sex,etc., a newsletter from Rutgers University's Network for Family Life Education.

Advocates for Youth where teens are responsible for content, Planned Parenthood sponsored

TeenWire, spoonsored by Planned Parenthood.

IWannaKnow.org from the American Social Health Associaton.

For older teens and college-age youth, there's Go Ask Alice a website from Columbia University Health Service, and Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. GLSEN organization's site.