Throughout our lifetimes, our bodies change and grow. What we need to be healthy also changes. Nutrition, sleep, exercise, hormones – there seems to be no end to the changes the average teenager experiences. This post discusses the unique healthcare needs of teens and how parents can help their kids become healthy adults.
The Importance of Adolescent Healthcare
Although most of us think of our teenage years as some of the healthiest of our lifetimes, these are the years that will truly cement most behavioral patterns. That includes personal lifestyle habits that impact long-term health and your child’s risk of developing chronic conditions as an adult.
It’s important to continue your teen’s annual wellness exams. It not only instills the habit of lifelong self-care, it also allows a third party – your doctor – to monitor your child’s growth and development
If your family has used the same doctor for a few years, he or she may also notice behavioral changes that someone who sees the child regularly didn’t recognize. These are often indicators of common problems that either begin or peak during adolescence, such as:
- Mental health conditions
- Nutrition issues
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Substance abuse
- Use of tobacco or nicotine products
- Weight loss or gain
Your child’s doctor may also be of assistance when it comes to common issues facing teens, as either a source for the child or for you (or both). Talking to your teenager about sex and all the repercussions – pregnancy and STIs – can be daunting. Your family physician can offer practical, actionable advice.
Common Teenage Health Concerns
The most common threats to an adolescent’s health differ dramatically from what they faced a few years ago, or what they’ll face once they’re in their 20s.
Teenagers and Motor Vehicle Accidents
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), motor vehicle accidents are the leading threat to children aged 16 to 19. Their risk of injury or death due to an accident is higher than any other age group. The CDC estimates that seven teenagers die in automobile accidents every day, with thousands more injured.
To keep your teen safe as both a driver and a passenger, educate yourself about the risks and how to protect your child. The National Safety Council offers great resources on teen driving safety.
Violence and Adolescence
The second-highest threat on the CDC’s list is violence, which causes the deaths of more than 16,000 teenagers each year. Of course, school shootings dominate headlines – there were 97 of them in 2018 alone. We’re only one month into 2019 and there have already been 11.
As terrible as those incidents are, however, they represent only a small fraction of the violent situations teenagers face. Abuse at home, bullying at school, abusive relationships (abusers don’t suddenly become violent once they reach adulthood) are the three most common threats. Learn what your teen faces and then talk to them about it.
Teenage Suicide Rates
The third leading cause of death for teenagers is suicide. Around 9 percent of high schoolers attempt suicide, but more than half admit to considering it. Their reasons vary, but the most common ones are feeling depressed or lonely, having problems at home, and addiction or substance abuse. Researchers believe it’s important for teens to have at least one adult in their lives with whom they can talk openly.
According to the CDC, the teen pregnancy rate has dropped every year for the past 4 years, which is great news. The bad news is that it’s still incredibly high in some states. Most of these states offer either zero sex education or abstinence only programs, so it isn’t surprising they lead the country in unintended teen pregnancies.
Since you can’t rely on your child’s school to teach them about safe sex, start having these conversations while your kids are young, preferably before they even hit puberty. Your doctor should be able to assist with age-appropriate information.
Teens and Sexually Transmitted Infections
Teens account for around half of all new STIs every year, even though they only make up around one-quarter of the sexually active population. As in preventing teen pregnancy, you want to encourage your teenager to always use condoms. It’s also important to have your teen tested for STIs to lower the risk of spreading the infection.
Adolescent Substance Abuse: Cigarettes, Alcohol, and Drugs (Including Prescription Drugs)
By the time they reach the 12th grade, nearly 90 percent of students admit to drinking alcohol at least once, and around two-thirds of them have experimented with tobacco.
Although it’s popular to think of marijuana as the “gateway” drug, it’s actually alcohol that nearly every teen experiments with first. After all, what’s easier than reaching into your parents’ liquor cabinet?
While the old standbys are still there – marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and meth – today’s teens are also likely to abuse prescription drugs. The opiod epidemic knows no age limit. In addition, ADHD medications like Adderall are extremely popular and readily available thanks to many of their peers having legitimate prescriptions for these drugs.
Talk to your doctor about recognizing the signs of substance abuse. And start talking to your kids about the dangers before they reach adolescence.
Eating Disorders and Overweight/Obesity
Since kids learn their eating habits from their parents, it should come as no surprise that very few of them get the recommended five to seven daily servings of fruits and vegetables. It’s also not surprising that many of them eat a diet loaded with high-fat, highly processed foods. These are the types of eating habits that follow you child for life.
Adolescents are also extremely susceptible to developing eating disorders, particularly anorexia and bulimia.
Try to model healthy eating and exercise habits for your kids. Your doctor can help you make healthy lifestyle changes for both you and your teen.
What Immunizations Should Your Teenager Have?
By their 13th birthday, your teenager should have received the following immunizations:
- HAV: Hepatitis A
- HBV: Hepatitis B
- HPV: Human papillomavirus
- MMR: Measles, mumps, and rubella
- Tdap: Tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis
- Varicella (chickenpox), assuming they have not had chickenpox
Most doctors also recommend a yearly flu vaccine. Talk to your pediatrician to make sure your child is up-to-date on his or her immunizations.
If it’s time for your teen’s annual checkup, schedule your appointment with Dr. Tara Clancy today at 760-305-1900.