Worried about your kid's development? Turn to your doctor before the internet or friends

If you have questions about your child's development, ask your pediatrician.

Dr. Neha Chaudhary is a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. She is also the co-founder of Brainstorm, Stanford's Lab for Mental Health Innovation.

(CNN)If you're worried about whether your child is hitting developmental milestones on time— like walking, socializing or talking— you might be relieved to know that you are like many other parents and that feeling worried is okay.

Nearly a quarter of parents suspect some degree of delay when it comes to their child, according to a new national University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital poll on children's health. But the nearly one in five parents who worried that their child was behind in hitting milestones didn't seek advice from a professional.
As a child psychiatrist, I'm concerned, however, that out of those parents who were worried or had questions about their children's development, almost 20% did not seek help from healthcare providers, childcare providers or other professionals. Instead, one in five parents turned to far less reliable sources— like family, friends or social media.
    "It is natural and expected for parents to scour the internet and social media looking for answers, but that can open a floodgate of information and subsequent anxiety for the 2:00 a.m.-Googling-parent," says Dr. Alok Patel, pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health.
      While these sources may seem like a convenient starting point, they can be rife with misinformation that lead families astray and cause delays in getting your child the help they really need. Instead, parents should be turning to their healthcare providers -- like pediatricians -- for guidance. Here's why.

        1. Your pediatrician is trained to understand your child's development

        A pediatrician's evaluation of your child is informed by years of training and a much deeper understanding of how and why a child's brain might be developing the way it is, as well as what's normal versus what is not. They likely have followed your child for a while and can pick up on the individual nuances of your unique child. While the internet can provide some information, only a trained health professional can apply that information in the right way for your particular child and provide reassurance where it's due.
          "I'd much rather have parents take their serious medical concerns to a pediatrician than the world wide web of anxiety," Patel said. "We're trained to not only identify and manage medical conditions; we also have the experience to be able to calm and reassure parents."
          While specialty care -- like seeing a child psychiatrist or developmental neurologist -- can also be helpful for some families, for others it might be harder to find, and more costly. In contrast, check-up visits with a pediatrician are typically relatively easy to set up once your child has been plugged into the practice.

          2. Misinformation can cause serious harm

          While the internet is full of convenient, at-your-fingertips information, not all information is created equal— and discerning fact from fiction can be a challenge. I've had countless patients tell me that they wish they had come to see me sooner for an evaluation. Often, they delayed getting help because something they read online misled them to pursue unhelpful home remedies or decide their child's diagnosis was something different. In many of those instances, the child's condition ended up getting worse with the delay in care. Typically, when it comes to health issues, the earlier something is identified and treated, the better the outcome.
          Patel notes that the converse is true as well: "I have also seen children rushed into the emergency department because the internet scared the parents into thinking their children had cancer."
          Parents looking for quick and seemingly convenient information should be sure to examine the source of the information that they find through a Google search or on social media. Is it citing a scientific study, or another type of sound evidence, or are the claims not back my research?
          "What seems like a credible medical article could actually be one trying to sell you a product or push a political agenda," cautions Patel.
          Even if the information is science-backed, parents should use this as only a starting point— a way in which to have on their radar a particular issue that they can then talk to their child's pediatrician about.

          3. Information may be accurate but may not apply to your child

          A high-quality article about developmental milestones might be helpful from an educational standpoint, but it won't always pertain to your particular child and the attributes that make them unique. Some parents might become anxious or worried about something more serious when, in reality, their child's development is normal for their own curve—something of which a healthcare professional might be able to provide reassurance.
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