Early adolescence (12-13) is filled with drama. Dramatic physical changes of puberty and dramatic mood swings. Young adolescents are egocentric and intensely focused “how do I look?” They have bright minds and great ideas. The difficulty is in balancing guidance and open communication with their increasing need for privacy.
- Substance Use and Abuse: As a parent, you gotta talk about this. It’s not unreasonable to expect your adolescent should NOT use tobacco, drugs, alcohol, inhalants, diet pills, etc. However, adolescents see through double standards. Don’t tell your adolescent not to smoke if you smoke. Show him or her a good example; stop. Discuss peer pressure. By opening the conversation with “Do your friends do…” rather than “Do you do…” you are more likely to get an honest answer and it can open the door of communication. If your teen is already involved in shenanigans, seek help now. Did you know that 72% of 9th graders have experimented with alcohol and 66% have tried cigarettes (according to a recent CDC national survey)? If you think it’s not a problem, you’re wrong.
- Car: Wear seat belts when riding in vehicles. Fact: Accidents are the #1 cause of death in this age group.
- Smoking: Make sure your home and cars are smoke-free zones.
- Guns: Need to be unloaded and locked in safes. Disturbing fact: More children are killed from guns every year than intruders.
- Helmets: Kids should wear a helmet on anything a kid can ride (e.g., bicycles, scooters, ATVs).
- Most this age need 8-9 hours of sleep a night. Some need more. It is not unreasonable to still have bedtimes and bedtime routines.
- Eat 3 nutritious meals a day and healthy snacks.
- Limit high-fat and high-sugar foods.
- Limit soda and other high-calorie drinks, including energy drinks.
- Eat fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads, lean meats, chicken, fish, and low-fat dairy products.
- Ensure your child gets 3 servings of dairy a day for adequate calcium. If not, provide a calcium and vit. D 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.
- Model good eating habits.
- Keep in mind is it very difficult to eat healthy when eating out (especially at fast food restaurants).
- Unless your child 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, 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).
- Identify appropriate adult to give accurate information.
- Have discussions (if not already done so) about sex, puberty, development, contraception, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It’s a common misconception that discussing sex is condoning it. Quite the contrary. Education is empowerment. Educate your child, tell him or her what your beliefs and expectations are.
- Recognize that sexual feelings are normal, but delay having sex.
- Learn how to say no to sex.
- Practice abstinence, it is the only 100% effective STI and pregnancy prevention method.
- If your child is already sexually active, you must discuss safe sex practices (contraception, condoms, etc).
- Keep in mind, your physician is a good resource if you are uncomfortable having any of these very important conversations with your child.
- Pornography: Did you know many pornography addictions start by age 14? Now is the time to address it, before it is a problem. Address what your child should do when (not if) he/she sees pornography.
- Limit total media time (TV, movies, video games, computer time) to no more than 2 hours a day, ideally less than 1 hour. Set up safeguards on home computers to prevent inappropriate material/child predators from entering your home via your computer.
- Engage in 30-60 minutes of physical activity 3 or more times a week.
- Establish realistic expectations at home, set clear limits with consequences. Share in household chores.
- Emphasize the importance of school. Make sure your child is learning to be responsible for his or her own homework, course selection, attendance. Discuss openly any frustrations he or she may be having at school.
- Identify and enable pursuit of talents and interests (including hobbies, sports, community activities, etc.).
- Acknowledge that this is an age full of transitions. Note: stable and supportive environments are crucial at this age (do not hesitate to seek help if your child seems despondent or anxious).