Parental Perceptions of the Internet and Social Media as a Source of Pediatric Health Information

Acad Pediatr. 2020 Jan-Feb;20(1):31-38. doi: 10.1016/j.acap.2019.09.009. Epub 2019 Oct 21.


Objective: 1) To evaluate differences in how parents use the Internet and social media for health information by child age. 2) To examine parental perceptions of health information on social media.

Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional survey of parents of children 0 to 18 years seen in clinics and an inpatient medical unit. Survey questions focused on: patterns of Internet and social media use, for what topics, and parental ratings of the accuracy, reliability, and appeal of information from social media. Parents' responses were categorized by age of their youngest child in years (0-4, 5-11, 12-18).

Results: A total of 258 parents completed the survey. The mean age was 39.8 years, 83% were female, 59% were white. The most common topics parents read about online were: sleep, mental health, and car safety. Nearly all parents (96%) used social media, with 68% using social media for health information. There were no significant differences in the proportion of parents who reported using social media for health information by child age. Only half of parents discussed information from social media with their physician. Parents of children age ≥5 years rated health information on social media as significantly more accurate than parents of younger children. There were no significant differences in ratings of reliability and appeal by child age.

Conclusions: Parents of children of all ages use social media for a variety of important topics related to child health. As many parents do not discuss it with their physician, there are missed opportunities for pediatricians to provide high-quality information.

Keywords: health information; parents; social media.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Consumer Health Information*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Internet*
  • Male
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Pediatrics*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Social Media*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires