Early adolescence is filled with drama. There are dramatic physical changes of puberty and dramatic mood swings. Young adolescents are egocentric and intensely focused on the question, “how do I look?” They have bright minds and great ideas. The difficulty lies in balancing guidance and open communication with their increasing need for privacy.
- Substance use/abuse: This topic must be addressed. Clearly educate about the dangers and the misconceptions (e.g., many teens believe marijuana is not addictive or vape is a safe alternative to smoking). It is not unreasonable to have the expectation that your child should NOT use tobacco, drugs, alcohol, inhalants, diet pills, etc. However, kids see through double standards. Do not tell your child not to smoke if you smoke. Show him or her a good example, stop. Discuss peer pressure openly. Opening the conversation with, “Do your friends do…” rather than “Do you do…” makes it more likely to get an honest answer, and it can open the door of communication. If your child is already involved, seek help.
- Car: Wear seat belts when riding in vehicles. Educate about the dangers of texting and driving (so he/she can help police whoever may be driving whenever he/she is a passenger). Fact: Accidents are the #1 cause of death in this age group.
- Smoking: Make sure your home and cars are smoke-free zones. Discuss the dangers of nicotine, both smoking and vaping. Also, check smoke alarms to ensure that they work properly, and change batteries annually.
- Helmets: Wear a helmet on all things a kid can ride (e.g., bicycles, scooters, go carts, skateboards, ATVs, etc.).
- Guns: Lock guns with ammunition separate and in a gun safe. (Disturbing Fact: More children are killed from guns every year than are intruders.)
- Sports: Teach safety in sports, including using protective gear (e.g., mouth guards, helmets, knee pads).
- Media: Family computers and laptops should be in an easily seen place in the home.
- Install safety filters/safeguards to prevent inappropriate material/child predators from entering your home via your computer.
- Teach children how to navigate the internet and social media safely (e.g., do not give out personal information, what to do when you encounter inappropriate content, etc.)
- Eat 3 nutritious meals a day and healthy snacks.
- Limit high fat and high sugar foods. Limit soft drinks/soda, instead encourage lots of water.
- Teach the importance of eating a balanced diet. Help your child choose lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and good sources of protein.
- Milk should be low fat. Aim for 3 servings of dairy/day (or calcium rich foods like almond milk, dark leafy greens, etc.). If not, you may need a separate calcium and vitamin D supplement.
- Eat meals as a family (around a table with no media). 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. Teach the concept of listening to our body’s hunger cues (e.g., eat when you are hungry, stop when you are satisfied).
- Keep in mind it is very difficult to eat healthy when eating out (especially at fast food restaurants).
- Give a multivitamin daily only if your child is not eating a balanced diet. Other supplements are not necessary unless specifically directed by your physician.
Most teens need 8-10 hours of sleep a night (unfortunately few are getting it). Help make adjustments where possible to accommodate this sleep need. Getting enough sleep has dramatic improvements in academic performance and mood, as well as decreasing risk of obesity.
- Continue to brush twice daily and floss once a day.
- Should continue to see a dentist every 6 months.
- Have discussions (if not already done so) about sex, puberty, masturbation, pornography, development, contraception, and STI’s. It is a common misconception that discussing it 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 encourage your child to delay having sex.
- Learn how to “say no” to sex. Warn against feeling pressured.
- Educate that 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 (e.g., contraception, condoms).
- Keep in mind, your physician is a good resource if you are uncomfortable having any of these very important conversations with your child.
- Media Exposure: Set limits (e.g., total time, content, etc.). Make a family media use plan (www.healthychildren.org/MediaUsePlan). Be selective about what media your teen consumes. If your teen is engaging in social media, make sure you follow his/her accounts and give clear direction on what is appropriate to post, comment on, and follow.
- Phones: Carefully consider what is the right age for your teen to get a cell phone. At this age, many are starting to get their own phones. Set clear limits and expectations. Establish that the phone belongs to mom/dad who maintain ownership/control over it.
- Social Interactions: Praise your teen for accomplishments. When correcting, make the clear distinction that the choices the teen is making, not the teen him/herself is bad. Encourage your teen to talk about feelings and experiences at school and with friends, but don’t be surprised if they are reluctant to do so. Know who your teen is hanging out with. Make a contingency plan for when your teen is a situation where he/she feels unsafe/uncomfortable that he/she can contact you.
- Family life: Spend time with your child both individually and together with siblings. Acknowledge conflicts between siblings. Come to a resolution without taking sides. Do not tolerate violence. Provide personal space for your child at home.
- Exercise: Aim for a minimum of 60 mins of physical activity a day. Model and encourage an active lifestyle.
- Chores: Give your teen chores and household responsibilities (e.g., do the dishes, wash and put away own laundry, mow the lawn, etc.). Having predictable, set jobs every day/week help with consistency and setting expectations.
- School: Emphasize the importance of school. Make sure your child is staying on top of his/her own homework, course selection, attendance.
Treat fever and minor illnesses at home as long as your teen looks and acts ok. Bring your teen to the doctor if: symptoms are severe or prolonged (e.g., fever beyond 5 days, bad cough, etc.), your teen reports specific symptoms (e.g., sore throat, painful urination, etc.), or you are concerned.
YOUR NEXT VISIT
Your teen’s next well check is in 1 year. If shots are up to date, your teen’s next vaccines aren’t until 16 years-old. Depending on the time of year, your teen may also need an annual flu shot.