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Keeping Your Adolescent Safe

Information for the concerned person in an adolescent’s life

Keeping the adolescent in your life healthy seems to be a full-time job, as does keeping him or her safe. The only difference is that, unlike when they were younger, there are many times when you must depend on young adults to monitor their own behavior.

This is the point when your role in an adolescent’s life changes more into that of a trusted educator or advisor. You lay the foundation and provide the framework and then you depend on the adolescent to make the right choices.

“Adolescents tend to think that they are free of risk — they often think that they’re invincible,” says Beth Volin, MD, medical director of the Rush Pediatric Primary Care and division director of general pediatrics at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “They also seem to be blind to the future consequences of their actions, especially when it comes to health and safety issues.”

Safe Driving

You should be especially vigilant about educating your adolescent about safe driving. Younger drivers often need to be reminded about the importance of wearing a safety belt, following the speed limit and avoiding distractions in the car, like cell phones, noisy and distracting friends or overly loud music.

You can have information exchanges as you drive about techniques that you have adopted to make driving safer. You may want to share the “two-second rule” with your adolescent: Always keep at least a two-second distance between you and the car in front of you when conditions are optimal (and adding seconds for confounding conditions like bad weather, difficult roads, construction zones, etc.). You could also share the three-second rule of counting to three after the light has changed to make doubly sure the intersection is clear before proceeding.

Tobacco Use

While other issues may seem more complex, tobacco use has an easy and clear cut message: Don’t start, or if you currently use tobacco, quit. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that this message is being well received or comprehended by some youth. According to the CDC about one-third of high-school-aged adolescents in the United States smoke or use smokeless tobacco.

Drug and Substance Abuse

Adolescence can be a time for risk taking and succumbing to peer pressure — a bad combination. That’s why it’s so important to lay a good foundation for those times when the young person is faced with intense pressure to use alcohol or other drugs. The adolescent in your life needs a strong base from which to make decisions about using alcohol and other drugs.

The statistics for alcohol use alone are frightening. According to the College Drinking Task Force report to NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), drinking by 18- to 24-year old college students contributes to an estimated 1,700 student deaths, 599,000 injuries and 97,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape each year.

The message for alcohol and other drugs is pretty straightforward, too, not only for health and safety reasons, but also on legal grounds. That message is simple. Don’t drink or take drugs because it’s against the law. It’s also highly detrimental to the developing body and brain of a young person.

It’s helpful to give the young adults in your life some strong education against using alcohol and other drugs. You should also provide a safety valve, in case they do use. Let them know that you will pick them up and take them home — no questions asked. You can work things out the following day when they are no longer under the influence.

Safer Sex

Though we don’t want to think of our children having sex before marriage, it’s important to make sure that if they are having sex that they use safer sex techniques.

According to the CDC, each year, there are approximately 19 million new sexually transmitted disease infections in the United States, and almost half of them are among young people aged 15 to 24. Thirty-four percent of young women become pregnant at least once before they reach the age of 20.

While abstinence is the safest and most effective way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, you’ll want to educate your child about how to protect themselves if they decide to have sex, by properly using a condom, for example. Though it may seem like a mixed message, you want them to realize that their safety comes first.

There are also many health issues that adolescents face. Read “Graduating to Better Health” for more information.

More Information at Your Fingertips:

  • For more information about pediatric services at Rush visit the Rush Children’s Hospital home page.
  • Looking for a doctor? Call toll free: 888 352-RUSH (7874)

Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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Adolescent Health Issues
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