Adolescents often believe that they’ll live forever. It’s easy to see why they would be filled with so much enthusiasm. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 80.5 percent of youth ages 12 to 17 are in excellent or very good health. Thanks to good teen health and well-being rates, the teen years are when options are wide open and almost anything is possible.
Teen Health and Well-Being
The teen year are also associated with a variety of mental and physical challenges. This is a time of tremendous change. The need for experimentation takes hold. Some teens make disastrous decisions during adolescence that can impact them for the rest of their lives. It is important for parents to stay close to teens. Step in when problems seem to occur. Parents can ensure that teens move through these years with their well-being intact and the future as bright as it can possibly be.
Teen Physical Health
Routine care can help kids avoid many health problems down the line.
According to the Nemours Foundation, teen visits with the doctor can include discussions on sexual health. These can be conversations parents might struggle to have with their teens. But doctors have additional training that may help them address these topics with ease. Teens might also open up to their doctors about their sexual activity, where they might try to hide the details from their parents. Sexually active females may need gynecological exams. Male teens may need regular examinations as well. Doctors also teach teens how to monitor their health and perform their own cancer screenings at home.
Teen Doctor Visits
Doctor visits also allow teens to learn more about how they can stay healthy as adults. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, 65 percent of deaths in adults are caused by heart disease, cancer, and stroke. While some of these diseases are caused by heredity, some cases could be prevented through lifestyle choices. The doctor might coach the teen about:
- The risks of smoking
- The benefits of a healthy diet
- The need to perform physical exercise
- How to maintain a healthy weight
- The importance of safety devices such as seatbelts, helmets, and headgear
Parents Can Help
Parents can reinforce messages. Ensure that teens have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain snacks, and plenty of water at all times. Parents can also make sure their children always use protective gear and perform some sort of physical activity every day. In fact, some parents choose to engage in physical activity as a group. Family hikes, bike rides or evening walks can help the entire group get fit and spend quality time together.
During a physical exam, the doctor might also screen the teen for substance abuse issues. Many teens are adept at hiding their use of drugs and alcohol from their parents. But they may open up to doctors that they consider safe authority figures.
Some doctors use a screening tool named after the words contained in these questions:
- Have you ridden in a car driven by someone who was high or drunk?
- Do you use alcohol or drugs to relax?
- Do you use alcohol or drugs while alone?
- Does your use of alcohol or drugs make you forget things you’ve done?
- Have family members or friends ever talked to you about the need to cut down on your substance use?
- Has your substance use ever gotten you in trouble?
Teens who answer yes to two or more of these questions often have a substance abuse issue. The doctor can then refer these teens to substance abuse counselors for further treatment.
See Related: Teens and High School Athletics
As most parents of teens know, adolescence is a time of experimentation and independence. Teens are transitioning from childhood to adulthood, testing boundaries and trying on new personalities. While all these changes might be positive, and some might even be encouraged, parents must also do their part to keep their teens grounded. Rules are important, even for teens who like to view rules as challenges to overcome.
Model Good Behavior
Parents can help teens display acceptable behavior:
- Staying calm. Teens may pick fights, blow up or become very emotional at a moment’s notice. Parents who remain kind and rational in the face of this storm can help their teens calm down as well.
- Being clear. Rules that are written out, in great detail, are easier for teens to follow than rules that seem to shift and bend depending on a parent’s mood.
- Getting involved. Parents should know the teen’s friends, and where the teen likes to spend time.
- Enforcing consequences. If parents outline a punishment that will take place when a teen breaks the rules, that punishment should take place when the rule is broken. It sounds simple enough, but many parents don’t enforce the rules and apply consequences. Teens learn to distrust many things these parents say down the line.
Teenagers and Sleep
Many of these rules may revolve around sleep. Teens are well known for staying up into the wee hours and wanting to sleep in late each morning. Unfortunately, teens who engage in this sort of behavior are working against the needs of their own bodies. During adolescence, a teen needs about nine hours of sleep per night, according to the Mayo Clinic. 90 percent of teens don’t receive this much sleep. A lack of sleep can make them feel unfocused, groggy and confused. It might also put these teens at higher risk of drug use, as they might turn to stimulants to help them stay awake during classes and sports activities.
Parents can help by enforcing firm rules about bedtimes. They can also remove electronic devices like phones, computers, and televisions from bedrooms. Finally, parents can also help teens by encouraging them to develop a sleep routine. Teens who drink tea, take a bath and listen to quiet music each night may find it easier to fall asleep. This also helps them stay asleep, compared to teens who have no such soothing routine to rely upon.
Teen Mental Health
The pressures of school, family, and peers combined with rising levels of hormones can add up to mental illness in a teen. Depression is particularly common in teens. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that 50 percent of teens who receive care have depression. In addition, some mental disorders run in families. These include schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, tend to appear during adolescence. As the teen brain undergoes growth and change, there seems to be a vulnerability in circuitry that allows these illnesses to take hold.
The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that behavioral changes that are severe or abrupt may signal a mental health issue. Teen behavioral changes associated with mental disorders tend to be swift, and the teen may behave in completely unusual ways. Teens who display these behaviors need to be evaluated by a mental health professional.
Teen Warning Signs
Other warning signs of mental illness can be subtle. These include:
- Lack of self-esteem
- Refusal to participate in things the teen once loved
- Sharp decline in grades
- Severe weight loss
- Excessive sleeping, or lack of sleeping altogether
Teens who display any of these behaviors should be assessed by a doctor. In addition, any teen who begins discussing suicide should be assessed immediately. Expressions of suicide are considered a mental health emergency, and they should never be chalked up to mere “talk.” Teens who begin discussing suicide could quickly move to planning a suicide. All comments should be taken seriously.
See Related: Managing Peer Pressure
Teens and Drug Use
According to an article by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, nearly 15 percent of high school seniors have abused prescription medications. About 32 percent of high school seniors have used marijuana. For some teens, this use was part of mere experimentation. For others, this use becomes habitual. Just as the adolescent brain is susceptible to mental disorders, the teen brain is also vulnerable to addiction issues. Drugs seem to cause more intense highs, and the lows seem to be even lower. Teens may develop addictions faster than their adult counterparts. In addition, they may not have the emotional resiliency or coping skills to prevent addiction.
Observe The Signs
There are many signs of drug abuse in teens, common red flags include:
- Dilated pupils
- Scent of smoke or perfume coming from the teen’s room
- Bloodshot eyes
- Hyperactivity followed by severe lethargy
- Increased need for privacy
- Slow speech
- Staggering or tripping
- Friends who seem impaired
- Constant need to borrow or steal money
- Persistent cough
Parents who spot these signs of drug use in their teens can schedule a formal family discussion. Both parents (if available) can highlight the symptoms of drug use that they’ve seen. Furthermore, encourage the teen to open up and discuss what drugs are being used, and how long the abuse has been occurring. For some teens, this conversation serves as a wake-up call. They may stop using drugs once they know they will face harsh consequences for drug use.
See Related: How Teens Can Report Drug Use at School
Unfortunately, some drugs cause persistent changes in the brain that can make full recovery more difficult. The teen may want to stop using drugs, but find that it’s difficult to stop the craving for drugs from taking hold. These teens might need more than a simple talk with their parents. In fact, these teens may benefit from structured addiction recovery programs. Here, they can receive medications to help with cravings and chemical imbalances. In addition, they can learn more about behavioral changes they can make to avoid further drug use. This is the sort of help we provide at Newport Academy, and we know it can help. If you believe your teen is using drugs, or you think your teen is using drugs to mask the symptoms of a mental illness, please contact us. Don’t let your teen’s health and well-being continue to suffer; get help today.