6 Facts about Teens and Health Literacy

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There’s nothing surprising about teens searching the internet for health-related information. But knowing why they search and how they process what they find offer significant clues for libraries and school media centers looking to support them.

1. Approximately 5% of online searches by teens are health related

So, on the surface, this percentage may not sound like a high number, but think about how a teen’s smart phone is effectively another appendage and the universe of what they’re interested in (music, sports,  and cat memes to name a few), and you’ll see that health is a consistent theme for them.

2. Teens search out of a specific need or fear

Studies show that teens by and large don’t go onto the internet to find out how to be a healthy person. They turn to the web to answer a particular need.  Questions about sexuality and birth control as well as drug use top the list. However mental health is an important and particularly sensitive topic.

3. Teens want personalized, private health information on the web

Teens most often cite their desire to have health information tailored as much as possible to their particular situation or condition, including, for example, online tests to evaluate mental health. Teens, particularly males, go online when they are uncomfortable sharing an issue with their social network that may, in turn, lead to some sort of sigma.

4. Teens talk first to family and friends, then rely on school-based resources, before searching online

Despite all the information out there, when it comes to health questions, a best friend or mom are still the people most teens want to talk to. And, not surprising, teens recognize the quality of the content provided to them by their schools.

5. If teens are first exposed to reliable health resources, they will better evaluate online health content

A 2012 study found that exposure to reliable online sources such as MedlinePlus resulted in higher health literacy scores for adolescents.

6. Exposure to reliable health resources leads to a better relationship between a teen and their healthcare provider

Feeling prepared for talking to a doctor or other health professional and confirming the information they are receiving in a healthcare setting are among the positive outcomes of a teen’s exposure to reliable health resources.

What does this mean for librarians and school media specialists?

The findings above underscore again the pivotal role librarians and media specialists play in helping adolescents get the health information they need. Among the actions information specialists can take:

  • Provide a core set of reliable health information for teens, including Omnigraphics’ Teen Health Series and government sources such as MedlinePlus.  The National Network of Libraries of Medicine has recently created a program to train public and school librarians on using MedlinePlus and other government health resources.
  • Connect with local teen health resources, particularly mental health resources, in a way that provide a safe environment for for teens to explore their specific concerns
  • Create health literacy partnership programs between school media centers and public libraries that focus on the entire community, including parents.
  • Create “smart searching” programs that focus on reliable health resources and overall information literacy

Find out more about Omnigraphics’ Teen Health Series

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