The internet just "is"

Nice summary of research by academics Patti M. Valkenburg and Jochen Pete, who have written numerous articles about youth online. In their current research, these two scholars conducted a review of all research done to date on teens online and concluded that the Internet isn’t necessarily a positive or negative influence. It is just a tool to use — for good or evil. They write “”Instant messaging can help them exchange intimate information with their close friends, thereby stimulating the quality of these friendships. However, it is also widely used for cyberbullying and online harassment. Likewise, online social support groups can help adolescents with social or health problems, but at the same time they can also result in dangerous interactions with strangers.”

“Nuff said. As I and many others have been positing for years, we cannot portray the internet as this scary world from which we need to protect our youth. Instead, we need to work with our youth to provide them with positive environments and good role models so that they are more prone to use technology (and their lives) to promote themselves and others, not bring each other down.

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The Internet May Reach Those Who Others Simply Can’t

I Want the Kit, a website that offers free chlamydia tests is only available in a few select areas (Alaska, Denver, CO, Maryland, West Virginia, Philadelphia, PA, Washington, DC and parts of Illinois), but it seems to make a big impact. About half its users are under 23 — not surprising since this is the demographic that is most at-risk for STIs, most likely to go online, and most likely to lack access to insurance and have no other place to go for health care.

A study out of Johns Hopkins found that women who sent tests into I Want the Kit had infection rates between 4-15% — positive tests mostly came from those who rarely get health check-ups and have limited or no health insurance. For comparison, 3-6% of women who get tested at family planning clinics test positive for Chlamydia infections. So, rates are higher for those who choose the online test. But that simply could be due to the age bracket — or is it something else?

Another study out of UCLA looked at the internet habits of homeless youth. They were surprised to find that almost 80% of these young people use social networking at least weekly. The potential downside of this usage is that over 20% percent of sexually active participants reported having found a sex partner online in the past  three months, and more than 10% engaged in “exchange sex” — trading sex for food, drugs or a place to stay.

However, those who used social networking to meet sexual partners were also more likely to discuss safer sex practices. And homeless youth who used social networking in general were more likely to have been tested for HIV and STIs.

So, maybe there is something else about the people who go online to get information about sexual health. They might simply be the people who know they need resources, but aren’t sure where else to go to get them. And that’s not such a bad finding after all.