By Dr. Leslie Farmer
Dr. Leslie Farmer, a Professor at California State University Long Beach, coordinates the Librarianship program. A frequent presenter and author of 30 books for the profession, she won American Library Association’s 2011 Phi Beta Mu Award for library education. Dr. Farmer is also the President of the California School Libraries Foundation.
Teens need and want information about health issues. Even though teens tend to prefer asking people for help, increasingly they access digital resources because of the Internet’s availability, affordability, and anonymity.
The range of health information sought by teenagers demonstrates varied needs: illnesses, accidents, chronic conditions, STDs including HIV/AIDS, nutrition, fitness, sexual activity, pregnancy, and mental health issues. The most popular topics deal with sexual health and drugs. Teens tend to seek information out of need or fear, such as a personal problem, rather than as a proactive effort to be healthy, such as eating nutritionally, or avoiding pregnancy. On the other hand, they would look for information that might avoid “genes as destiny” syndrome or counteract past poor health choices. Some may also seek health information to address some kind of social stigma that is health-based, such as acne.
Several barriers to health information exist. Teens can be ignorant about some aspects of health and do not have a sound knowledge base on which to determine the validity of health advice. Nor does it help that filtering software further limits students’ access to valuable online health information. Some teens are struggling readers or may have language barriers. Even so-called digital natives may have technology deficiencies or have poor physical access to technology. In addition, attitudes and expectations about health are culturally contextually; for instance, in some cultures, health is a private concern, and in other cultures, hospitals are a place to die rather than to get well. In addition, notable subgroups at higher risk in terms of health information seeking include youth with special needs such as disabilities, GLBT, teenage parents, rural youth, illiterate teens, poor teens, and teens of color.