GENERAL ADOLESCENT CARE
When does adolescence start? It varies from child to child …. There may be early bloomers, late arrivers, slow-but-steady growers.
Puberty vs Adolescence.
Most of us think of puberty as the development of adult sexual characteristics: breasts, menstrual periods, pubic hair, and facial hair. These are certainly the most visible signs of puberty and impending adulthood, but kids between the ages of 8 and 14 or so also can be going through various changes that aren’t readily seen from the outside. These are the changes of adolescence.
Many kids announce the onset of adolescence with a dramatic change in behaviour around their parents. They’re starting to separate from parents and family and become more independent. At the same time, kids this age are increasingly aware of how others, especially their peers, see them and are desperately trying to fit in. Their peers often become much more important than parents as far as making decisions.
Kids experiment different looks, clothes and identities, and they become very aware of how they differ from their peers, which can sometimes result in stress and conflict with parents.
One of the common stereotypes of adolescence is the rebellious teen continually at odds with parents. This is a time of emotional ups and downs too for some. But the primary goal of the teen years is to achieve independence. As teens mature, they start to think more abstractly and rationally. They’re forming their moral code. And parents of teens may find that kids who previously had been willing to conform to please them will suddenly begin asserting themselves — and their opinions — strongly and rebelling against parental control.
You may need to look closely at how much room you give your teen to be an individual and ask yourself questions such as: “Am I a controlling parent?,” “Do I listen to my child?,” and “Do I allow my teen’s opinions and tastes to differ from my own?
Tips for Parenting During the Teen Years
Looking for a roadmap to find your way through these years? Here are some tips:
Read books about teenagers. Think back on your own teen years. Remember your struggles with acne or your embarrassment at developing sexual characteristics. Expect some mood changes child, and be prepared for more conflict as he or she matures as an individual. Parents who know what’s coming can cope with it better. And the more you know, the better you can prepare.
Talk to Kids Early and Often
Starting to talk about menstruation or wet dreams after they’ve already begun is starting too late. Answer the early questions kids have about bodies, such as the differences between boys and girls and where babies come from. But don’t overload them with information — just answer their questions. If you don’t know the answers, get them from someone who does, like a trusted friend or your pediatrician.
You know your kids. You can hear when your child’s starting to tell jokes about sex or when attention to personal appearance is increasing. This is a good time to jump in with your own questions such as:
- Are you noticing any changes in your body?
- Are you having any strange feelings?
- Are you sad sometimes and don’t know why?
A yearly physical exam is a great time to talk about this. A doctor can tell your preadolescent — and you — what to expect in the next few years. A Drs visit can be a jumping-off point for a good parent/child discussion.
Put Yourself in Your Child’s Place
Practice empathy by helping your child understand that it’s normal to be a bit concerned or self-conscious, and that it’s OK to feel grown-up one minute and like a kid the next.
Pick Your Battles
If teenagers want to dye their hair, paint their fingernails black, or wear funky clothes, think twice before you object. Teens want to shock their parents and it’s a lot better to let them do something temporary and harmless; save your objections for things that really matter, like tobacco drugs and alcohol, or permanent changes to their appearance.
Ask why your teen wants to dress or look a certain way and try to understand how your teen is feeling. You also might want to discuss how others might perceive them if they look different — help your teen understand how he or she might be viewed.
Teens might act stressed and unhappy about the expectations their parents place on them. Still, they usually understand and need to know that their parents care enough about them to expect certain things such as good grades, acceptable behavior, and sticking to the house rules. If parents have appropriate expectations, teens will likely try to meet them.
Inform Your Teen — and Stay Informed Yourself
The teen years often are a time of experimentation, and sometimes that experimentation includes risky behaviors. Don’t avoid the subjects of sex and drug, alcohol, or tobacco use. Discussing tough topics openly with kids before they’re exposed to them actually makes it more likely that they’ll act responsibly when the time comes. Share your family values with your teen and talk about what you believe is right and wrong, and why.
Know your child’s friends — and know their friends’ parents. Regular communication between parents can go a long way toward creating a safe environment for all teens in a peer group. Parents can help each other keep track of the kids’ activities without making the kids feel that they’re being watched.
Know the Warning Signs
A certain amount of change is normal during the teen years. But too drastic or long-lasting a switch in personality or behavior may signal real trouble — the kind that needs professional help. Watch for these warning signs:
- extreme weight gain or loss
- sleep problems
- rapid, drastic changes in personality
- sudden change in friends
- skipping school often
- falling grades
- talk or even jokes about suicide
- signs of tobacco, alcohol, or drug use
- run-ins with the law
Any other inappropriate behaviour that lasts for more than 6 weeks can be a sign of underlying trouble, too. You may expect a glitch or two in your teen’s behaviour or grades during this time, but your A/B student shouldn’t suddenly be failing, and your normally outgoing kid shouldn’t suddenly become constantly withdrawn. Your doctor or a local counsellor, psychologist, or psychiatrist can help you find proper counselling.
Respect Kids’ Privacy
Some parents feel that anything their kids do is their business. But to help your teen become a young adult, you’ll need to grant some privacy. If you notice warning signs of trouble, then you can invade your child’s privacy until you get to the heart of the problem. But otherwise, it’s a good idea to back off.
In other words, your teenager’s room, texts, e-mails, and phone calls should be private. You also shouldn’t expect your teen to share all thoughts or activities with you at all times. Of course, for safety reasons, you should always know where teens are going, when they’ll be returning, what they’re doing, and with whom, but you don’t need to know every detail. And you definitely shouldn’t expect to be invited along!
Start with trust. Tell your teen that you trust him or her, but if the trust gets broken, he or she will enjoy fewer freedoms until it’s rebuilt.
Monitor What Kids See and Read
TV shows, magazines and books, the Internet — kids have access to tons of information. Be aware of what your teens watch and read. Don’t be afraid to set limits on the amount of time spent in front of the computer or the TV. Know what they’re learning from the media and who they may be communicating with online.
Teens shouldn’t have unlimited access to TV or the Internet in private — these should be public activities. Access to technology also should be limited after certain hours (for example, 10 p.m. or so) to encourage adequate sleep. It’s not unreasonable to have cellphones and computers off limits after a certain time.
How often does a teenager need to be seen by their doctor?
Teens and younger school-aged children, like adults, should visit their doctor once a year for a full check up. If a chronic medical condition exists or if signs or symptoms of an illness or disease are present, more frequent office visits may be necessary.
What might a doctor check during a teen health care wellness visit?
Your doctor may perform any of the following:
- Measure your height, weight, and blood pressure.
- Order tests (such as a check for anemia, a cholesterol level once in teenage years) to check your general health, find certain diseases, or determine if you are at risk for certain health problems.
- Check young men for hernias and testicular cancer and teach testicular self examination.
- Teach young girls after age 20 years on how to perform a self breast examination, and educate on when to obtain a pelvic examination.
Check your immunization record and catch you up on any necessary booster shots (to reduce the risk of contracting chicken pox, measles, mumps, rubella, meningitis, hepatitis, human papillomavirus, diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus).
- Check your vision and hearing if not done elsewhere.
- Check your teeth for signs of tooth decay, abnormal tooth development, dental injuries and other oral health problems.
- Ask you about potentially harmful behaviors and social or emotional problems.
What are the most common health-related concerns of teens and how can teens best safeguard their health?
Issues involving weight, body image, prevention and disease, puberty and sexual development are typical concerns of this age group. Sports injuries are also common. Actions to take to keep you healthy and to discuss in greater detail with your doctor include:
- Get regular exercise.
- Eat a healthy diet, including adequate calcium (4 dairy a day, or 1200-1500 mg of calcium daily).
- Do not smoke or use any type of tobacco or smokeless tobacco product. Avoid breathing second-hand smoke.
- Use all safety and protective devices designed for the activity in which you are engaged. For example, use seat belts when driving, bike helmets when bicycle riding, and protective sports equipment when participating in sports.
- Never drink and drive and never get into a vehicle with a driver who has been drinking or taking illegal drugs.
- Tell your parents or doctor if you are having learning problems or difficulties at school.
- Ask for help in learning how to resolve conflicts without the use of violence. Avoid situations in which fighting may break out and cause you to be physically harmed.
- Tell your parents or doctor if you are feeling really sad or are thinking about harming yourself.
If you are having sex, use condoms plus a second method of contraception to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
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