Site URL: www.sparkteens.com
Content: Based on the popular free health Web site SparkPeople.com, SparkTeens.com is a healthy-living site aimed at 13 to 17-year-olds. The gated community allows access only to that demographic. Teachers can gain access, however, by requesting it from the Web site via email. About 100 teachers have done so, according to a spokesman. SparkTeens includes articles on fitness, nutrition and healthy living, as well as calculators to track weight, measurements, exercise and food. There are also message boards, community teams and areas where members can blog about their experiences.
Design: SparkTeens has multiple tool bars. There are three rows of toolbars horizontally across the top of the screen as well as a toolbar on the right vertical. It’s a four-column, fairly busy layout, with some pictures, lots of text and a few ads. The tools are easy to access and use, as are the articles.
Review: SparkTeens looks and feels a lot like its adult counterpart, SparkPeople. The site offers healthy-living advice to teens and also gives them the opportunity to interact with each other. For teachers, there is the opportunity to log on and create a SparkTeam for their class, which can be used for discussions and common goals. There is no way for teachers to specifically track students’ participation and use of the site, however.
Bottom Line: Although the content has been adapted for a teenage audience, the prominence of the measurement and nutrition tracking tools is somewhat problematic. With body image being a big issue for teens, these could offer too much emphasis on weight and size. Further, the message boards and SparkTeams offer the opportunity for kids to share in both healthy ways and unhealthy ways. For instance, one teen posted tips about eating (such as not sitting at a table because it makes you too tense) that weren’t from the site and weren’t accurate medical advice. While the articles are useful, a site that puts emphasis on tracking food, weight and waist size may not be the best choice for impressionable teens. Also, without a control for teachers to really see what their students are up to on this site, using it in class could lead to problems.