Your doctor’s main goal for you is to get you through your teenage years as healthy as possible. Fortunately, much of that success is up to you. Many problems that affect teens are related to life choices.
What does that mean? There are medical illnesses that can harm you, but they are less common than the problems that accompany life choices such as drugs, drinking, driving and premarital sex.
You are between worlds. You are no longer a kid but you are not quite an adult. Your adolescent years are a time of gaining increasing freedom and greater responsibility. Here are some of the issues your doctor and your parents will help guide you through. Remember, your parents are your best allies. Nobody loves you as much as they do. Help them help you.
- See your doctor once a year.
- Discuss confidentiality with your doctor at your visit.
- Drugs, drinking, driving, and premarital sex are probably the most dangerous things you can do during your teen years. Ask your doctor to discuss them. Any one of these activities can change your life instantly and permanently. Drugs and alcohol alter your judgment, possibly leading to injury. Not having sex until you are married will always be your best choice. You avoid being an unprepared parent or getting HIV. You avoid getting a disease with long term consequences. You are free of guilt, and you save and focus your sexual energy for your spouse.
- Be aware of legal implications of sexual activity with younger partners.
- If, however, you want to engage in this dangerous game, condoms offer some protection against the above diseases, but they do not protect your mind or your heart. Adolescents who are having sex should get an exam every year to check for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
- All teens are anxious to drive, but don’t think about the many thousands who are killed in car crashes every year. Drive with your parents as much as possible. Never drink and drive, or ride with anyone who has been drinking. Call for another ride. Keep some emergency money and a phone number for an emergency taxi.
- Wear seat belts. Use helmets on bikes and motorcycles. In-line skaters should use knee and elbow pads as well as helmets. Learn to solve interpersonal conflicts without weapons.
- Depression can occur in teens. It is a chemical imbalance that can corrected with medicines. If you feel down, sad, suicidal, unmotivated, uninterested, unworthy or guilty all the time, see your doctor. The life you save will be your own.
- If you are having food and eating problems, see your doctor. Being overweight can be a terrible physical and emotional burden. Thinking you are too fat (when you are not) can steal much of your joy during your teen years, and be very dangerous. If you are unhappy with your body, talk to your doctor.
- Check your blood pressure twice a year. Next time you are in a pharmacy with an automatic blood pressure cuff, go ahead- stick your arm in there! Tell your doctor the result.
- If there are cholesterol problems or heart attacks in your family, get your cholesterol level checked.
- If you have ever used IV drugs or have risky sexual behavior, you are risking HIV. Get tested!
- If you are having severe school problems, see your doctor because sometimes there can be a medical basis for this.
- Make sure your shots are up-to-date.
- Finally, remember that your doctor, your parents, your teachers and your pastors are ON YOUR SIDE. Talk with your parents often. Advice from your friends may be well-meaning but incorrect. If you cannot talk with your parents, talk to your doctor – we can help. Anything you choose to discuss with us about drugs, alcohol, smoking, sex, pregnancy and mental health is confidential unless you give us permission to tell your parents. The only instance where we must break your confidentiality is if you tell us you are going to hurt yourself or someone else – in that case, we are required by law to protect you! If you follow these simple steps, you can pursue those dreams you have for your life. Most of these items involve choices. MAKE HEALTHY LIFE CHOICES.
Health Tips and Resources for Parents with Adolescents
Your adolescent is in an uncomfortable time between childhood and adulthood and friends can be more influential than family. Teens need a parent’s guidance, love and understanding more than ever. Make time in your busy life to get to know your kids as people and know their friends. It seems obvious to be genuinely interested in your kids but it may take some extra effort! Tell your kids how much you appreciate them. To help them become responsible adults, give them freedoms (with added responsibilities) a little bit at a time. When they make wrong choices, help them understand their errors and modify their freedoms as needed. Watch and discuss media with them- TV, music videos, and video games. Hug them often.
Car crashes, alcohol and tobacco use, illicit drugs, and sexual activity are big threats to your teens’ lives. Conversations are essential although uncomfortable. Misunderstanding and misinformation are everywhere! Education is available in books, handouts, and web-sites. Many reputable sources (National medical organizations such as the AMA, AAP, AAFP; Medical Info sites such as WebMD; Universities such as Wake Forest University) have information geared to the needs of teens as well as parents. Remember- you have some influence over temptation and opportunity- both of which can lead to risky behavior. Examine your own life to see if you are sending a double message to your kids (“do as I say, not as I do”)!
Premarital sex is never the best choice for your teen. It can hurt them and their dreams for the future. Promote abstinence in a positive light since there are numerous advantages and no disadvantages. Ask your provider for help broaching these difficult topics. Use media resources, school guidance counselors, trusted family members and friends, or spiritual leaders for help. Assure your teen access to information on all their options. Keep an open line of communication with them so they can always come to you with their concerns and problems, even when they think you’ll be unhappy or disappointed in them.
A driver's license is an inevitable rite of adulthood for your teen. Set firm guidelines about car use- where they can go; who they can go with; mandatory seat belt use; the dangers of distraction (music, telephone, text messaging, juggling a sandwich and the steering wheel!) A defensive driving course will teach accident-avoidance skills.
Insist on safety in sports: helmets for bicycling, skating, skateboarding; protective gear as needed for all sports; discourage four-wheelers and motorcycles (with their tremendous accidental injury and death rate); don’t forget that boats and personal watercraft such as a “JetSki”, require as much skill and maturity to operate as an automobile.
Teens who smoke have a very hard time quitting later in life. The website www.quitlineNC.com is a great resource. If you smoke, you have much less chance getting them to stop. Smokeless tobacco is NOT safer than smoking! Don’t believe that myth! Depression can be serious in adolescents. Suicide is more common among depressed teens. Don’t assume they will just “snap out of it.” They may need medicines, just as adults do. Bring them in for an appointment. Sometimes fatigue just comes with the growth spurt. Check it out! Puberty comes at different ages, but if you are concerned about their development or behavior, schedule an appointment. Girls should take vitamins with iron on a daily basis and eat iron-rich foods. Try to get balanced meals. Milk provides calcium and Vitamin D which might be deficient during this time of rapid body growth.
Vaccinations don’t stop with the Kindergarten boosters. Teens need boosters for Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis. At various ages we recommend vaccines for Hepatitis A, Human Papilloma Virus and Meningococcal Meningitis. Even though teens are usually healthy, try to bring them in at least once each year for complete exams. Girls will not need a pelvic exam or Pap smear until they are 21 years old unless they are symptomatic.