Wellness Topics for Adolescence/Teens

Eating Disorders—The medical sites report that eating disorders is the third most common chronic illness. Early intervention is critical, as prolonged disorders—whether anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa—can lead to serious illnesses and conditions of a lasting nature well into adulthood. Often these symptoms cannot be observed superficially, and they may require nutritional professionals to collaborate with pediatricians in assuring proper balance of vitamins and minerals, alongside monitoring protein and calorie intake. Predominantly a situation with young girls, eating disorders should not be regarded as some passing fad or some “thing they are just going through.” Undetected and untreated, these disorders can quickly become dangerous and life threatening. Watch out for the obsession with weight, figure, and even exercise as what can sometimes seem benign and healthy to the casual onlooker is masking a disastrous health problem in the making. Don’t hesitate to engage the doctor and a counselor if necessary before these troubling eating trends or habits become cemented in the child’s psyche. The best approach is prevention in the form of parenting your child toward healthy food choices, and this should be systematic around the house beginning in the early childhood years.

Mood Disorders—These are sometimes described as “affective disorders,” and they are much more prevalent, researchers say, in children than we commonly believe. Mental health professionals say that mood disorders can be tricky to spot in children, simply because children are not as adept at expressing their feelings like adults. Many professionals say that these mood issues are seriously under-diagnosed, as parents and teacher will skate over what appears to be just a passing mood of negativity. Whatever the disorder may be—such as depression, bipolar, or perhaps a mood disorder generated by other medication, to name just a few—if allowed to go on untreated, the result can mean additional disorders such as anxiety disorder, disruptive behavior, and suicidal ideation. Symptoms to watch for include: difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping, diminished energy, decrease in appetite, low self-esteem, a sudden drop of interest in any number of activities like sports or school, irritability and hostility, a fear of failure or fear of falling short of perfection. This list can go on—the crucial thing to know is that children can be helped. Downward shifts in attitude should be monitored, and don’t hesitate to connect with the right expertise through your school’s resources or through your pediatrician.

Sexual Development and Attitudes

For this topic, in this space on the enlivenminds site, I want to focus on attitudes, values, and feelings—these contribute to or reflect the emotional, social and cultural world our children experience when it comes to sexuality. When kids turn twelve and thirteen, they have already amassed a significant amount of attitudes and perceptions about sexuality from their peers, social media, and popular culture. It is the rare child who receives predominantly healthy perspectives from one’s parents, but that typically stems from a lack of communication on the topic. This lack of parent-child communication on sexuality is the norm in developing and under-developed countries. The level of media/internet exposure to aggressive sexual behavior during early and middle adolescence should be of utmost concern to educators and parents as teenagers will are very vulnerable to STD’s and sexually violent behavior when their educational institutions are not partnering with parents in the area of education. How can we further the development of respect, safety, consideration, and awareness, in addition to enhancing the education of non-coital sexual activity as a means of encouraging healthy behavior? While the MeToo movement has largely focused on adult perpetrators, we are overlooking the experience of children and adolescents whose experience of sexual harassment, bullying and abuse, can cause hurt and pain that is serious and permanent. In my IDENTITY section on this site, you will find additional commentary on what provides for appropriate education prior to the adolescent years, which can prepare the child attitudinally for the rapid hormonal changes that take place during puberty and beyond.

Alcohol and Tobacco—Let’s start with smoking. The best way to ward off teen smoking, apart from establishing an absolute no smoking household, is to set the right example by not smoking or, if you do smoke, by communicating with your child how you are trying to quit and enumerating the reasons why it is a disgusting and harmful habit. Setting an example is hugely influential, but it needs to go hand in hand with communicating the hazards long before your child hits puberty and adolescence. Keeping your child productively involved in anything physical—sports, dancing, hiking, even menial jobs—will also limit the chances they will turn to smoking. Teaching, especially through role-playing, how to turn down a cigarette, and rehearsing the line as if it were your child’s sole line in the school play, “No thanks—I don’t smoke,” will give your child the tools to resist peer pressure. Throw in all the other demerits, like the expense of cigarettes, or how smelly they are for your breath and your clothes, and certainly how damaging to the lungs and how detrimental to longevity. The good news is that teen smoking has been witnessing a decline (however tiny) in the USA over the past two decades. The education is working. Underage consumption of alcohol has also seen a decline, at least in terms of teen fatalities associated with drinking, which have gone down significantly, even though it remains a startling statistic [4,600 underage drinking deaths in 2016, down almost 80% from the levels of the 1980’s]. Even while trends are moving in the right direction, health officials are still regarding underage drinking as an epidemic. Nearly 20% of teens report drinking in the past 30 days, while 12% report having engaged in binge drinking. The warning signs that your child may be drinking can be invisible for many months. Watch out for these symptoms: sudden drop in school performance, diminished interest in activities and hobbies, loss of memory, or irritable and distant behavior.  There can be more indicators, but aggressive intervention should occur immediately and an indefinite revamp of the entire parent-child relationship may be in order to turn around such behavior. One of the odd statistics you will find is that parents who include their children in modest amount of drinking at the dinner table tend to raise children with fewer drinking problems, compared with parents who restrict alcohol 100% around the house.  To learn more about intervening on your child’s alcohol problem, check the site https://www.alcoholproblemsandsolutions.org/children-alcohol-and-parenting/