Talking with their doctor about social media can help teens stay safer online 

Training primary care physicians to talk to teens and young adults about safe social media use helped make a difference in those youth’s online behavior six months later, according to a recent Journal of Adolescent Health study

Nearly 250 physicians participated in the study, seeing more than 10,000 patients in the study’s two-year time frame. One group of physicians was given training in talking to youth about safe social media use and the other group was trained in talking to youth about quitting smoking. 

The social media discussions had an impact. When the researchers interviewed 992 of the patients six months later, they found that youth whose doctors were trained in social media counseling were twice as likely to report decreased “friending” of strangers online and were more likely to discuss social media use with their parents or guardians, as compared with the youth whose doctors were trained in the smoking cessation counseling. 

“It resulted in teens choosing safer options for their online interactions,” explained Jonathan Klein, professor of pediatrics at the University of Illinois Chicago and a coauthor on the study. 

The researchers were also pleased to learn that giving doctors this training resulted in them using it during patient visits, where time for additional topics of conversation can be scarce. 

“Clinicians really appreciated a framework to discuss online activity with parents and teens,” said Klein, who is also associate vice chancellor for research at UIC. One motivation for the research was that most pediatricians lack training in talking to patients about social media. 

The research was coauthored by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the University of Vermont. 

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