Most 16-17 year-olds are finished with puberty, have a good sense of self, and are seeking the approval, acceptance, and love of others at this age. Driving and independence are a major part of this age group. Parents often find this age a refreshing change from the emotional and dramatic times of the early teenage years. Many 16-17 year olds are starting to think about the future and life after high school.
- Substance Use and Abuse: This topic must be addressed. It is not unreasonable to have the expectation that your adolescent should NOT use tobacco, drugs, alcohol, inhalants, diet pills, etc. If your teen is already involved with drugs, seek help. Teens need to avoid parties and situations if drugs and alcohol are present. Do not allow it at your house. Do not be mislead into thinking that if you buy it or host it that you can “keep a better eye on things” or “control it.” Drugs and alcohol are illegal. Encourage friends who do not use drugs and alcohol.
- Car: Established rules for teen drivers.
- Wear seat belts driving or riding in vehicles and insist that all passengers wear seat belts. Fact: Accidents are the #1 cause of death in this age group.
- Concentrate when driving, avoid distractions (e.g., loud music, eating, talking on the phone while driving).
- Do not drink and drive (I support the idea of making your teen sign a “No drinking and driving” contract that you create).
- Have a “Call me ANYTIME for a ride” rule, which applies to any situation where your teen is compromised (e.g., they or their friends have been drinking, are in danger, someone is being abusive with them, etc.). Make sure your teen understands that if called, you will remain calm and not get mad. It is most important that they understand they are loved and that you care most of all about their safety.
- Smoking: Make sure your home and cars are smoke free zones. Also, check smoke alarms to ensure that they work properly and change batteries annually. Review your family’s plan in case of a fire; is there a designated meeting place?
- Weapons: Do not carry or use a weapon of any kind.
- Abuse: Teach your teen strategies to protect him or herself from abuse of any type (physical, emotional, sexual/rape). Make sure he or she seeks help if they feel they are in danger.
- Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night. Some need more.
- Eat 3 nutritious meals a day and healthy snacks.
- Limit high fat and high sugar foods.
- Limit soda and other high calorie drinks.
- Eat fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads, lean meats, chicken, fish, and low fat dairy products.
- Ensure your teen gets 3 servings of dairy a day for adequate calcium. If not, you may need to take a calcium supplement.
- Eat meals as a family (around a table with the television off). Not only does eating together as a family develop good nutritional habits, it has multiple lasting effects on the social support of a family. Family dinner is a great time to discuss what is happening in your teen’s world.
- Model good eating habits.
- Keep in mind is it very difficult to eat healthy when eating out (especially at fast food restaurants).
- Unless your teen eats a perfectly balanced diet, he or she likely needs a multivitamin once a day. Otherwise, other supplements are not necessary unless specifically directed by your physician.
- Continue to brush and floss teeth twice a day.
- Schedule appointment to see a dentist every 6 months.
- Fluoride supplementation, this depends on the level of fluoride in the drinking water in the city where you live (your pediatrician or dentist can prescribe it if needed).
- Don’t smoke or chew tobacco. It ruins teeth and gums.
- Identify appropriate adult to give accurate information.
- Discuss with your doctor questions about sexual development, contraception, and sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention.
- Have open discussions about sex. It is a common misconception that discussing it is condoning it. Quite the contrary, education is empowerment. Educate your teen. Tell teens what your beliefs and expectations are.
- Recognize that sexual feelings are normal, but sex should be a well thought out decision. Engaging in sex comes with a lot of responsibilities and consequences; one should delay having sex until mature enough to handle it.
- Learn how to resist sexual pressures and say no to sex.
- Abstaining from sex is the only 100% effective STI and pregnancy prevention method.
- If your teen is already sexually active, you must discuss safe sex practices (contraception, condoms, etc).
- If teens are concerned or confused about their sexual feelings (for the same or opposite sex), they should talk with their doctor or trusted adult.
- Teach teens to trust their feelings. Listen to the ideas of good friends and trusted adults.
- Talk to your doctor or trusted adult if you regularly feel angry, hopeless, or depressed.
- Learn to set goals. Achieving them builds confidence.
- Learn constructive strategies for dealing with stress.
- Discuss openly peer pressure, how to handle negative peer pressure, and the importance of good friends.
- Limit total media time (TV, movies, video games, computer time) and phone time to no more than 2 hours a day, ideally less than 1 hour. Set up safeguards on home computers to prevent inappropriate material from entering your home via your computer.
- Engage in 30-60 minutes of physical activity 3 or more times a week.
- Respect family members and family rules (e.g., curfew, driving rules). Share in household chores.
- Emphasize the importance of school and education. At this age, your teen needs to take responsibility for homework, attendance, course selection, and extracurricular activities. Discuss openly any frustrations he or she may be having at school or thoughts about dropping out.
- Come up with a plan for life after high school (e.g., college, vocational training, career, military). Prepare as needed for college (e.g., take college prep courses, appropriate entrance exams, decide on schools).
- Have your teen begin to take responsibility for own health care (e.g., scheduling and going to appointments).