Preparing teens for adulthood brings many challenges for parents. Among these is helping them begin managing their own health and wellness. Education is key as teens need to learn about the importance of their well-being and the impact the choices they make now will have on them in the future. Parents play an important role monitoring their children’s health while teaching them how to make good choices. These five health tips will help educate teens and empower them to manage their own health.
- Get yearly checkups and needed vaccinations.
As a family medicine physician, Sean Kennedy, MD, believes his role is to promote the good health of his patients while helping them prevent injury and future problems. He encourages teens to have yearly checkups and a variety of health screenings, including those for height, weight, BMI or body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol, depression and sexually transmitted infections or STIs.
“Because they’re young doesn’t mean children are healthy,” he says. He advises a cholesterol screening between the ages of nine and 11 and again at age 18. In addition, they need vaccines, including those for TDAP, HPV, meningitis and a yearly flu shot.
- Eat a healthy diet and exercise every day.
Nutrition and exercise are important, Dr. Kennedy says, noting an increase in the number of overweight teens. He recommends teaching teens the daily 5-4-3-2-1 guidelines: five servings of fruits and vegetables, four glasses of water, three meals – eating out less and more at home, less than two hours of screen time, and one hour of activity every day. “We don’t do the food pyramid anymore,” he says, referring to nutrition guidelines. Instead, the focus is on the plate: half of it should contain dark, leafy greens and vegetables, one quarter should be lean meat and a quarter should be whole grains.
Regular exercise is very important, he notes. “Kick teens outside. Make sure they get cardio in,” he advises. Regular physical activity promotes lifelong health and well-being and helps prevent risk factors for heart disease, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and other health conditions. He recommends 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily to include muscle- and bone-strengthening activities, as kids are at risk for osteoporosis.
- Get 10 hours of sleep nightly.
Sleep is also important. Studies show that most teens get 8.5 hours of sleep daily, but Dr. Kennedy says they would function better with 10 hours. Lack of sleep can cause mood swings, lack of attention and difficulty concentrating, listening, learning and problem solving, along with irritability. He advises making sleep a habit – for the whole family. “Turn off the phone, turn off lights, keep caffeine to a minimum,” he says.
- Seek help for depression and anxiety.
One in five teens experiences depression and anxiety, Dr. Kennedy says, adding, “It’s worse than ever.” If parents are concerned their teens may be depressed, he recommends letting them know you’re concerned. “They may open up to you,” he says. “If symptoms linger, see a doctor.”
- Say no to alcohol and drugs.
Alcohol, marijuana and tobacco are substances commonly used by adolescents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. By grade 12, almost two-thirds of students have tried alcohol, about half of high school students have used marijuana and about 40 percent have tried cigarettes.
Prescription medications are also abused, often resulting in overdoses. Dr. Kennedy advises parents to keep prescriptions safe and out of kids’ hands. “Be responsible,” he says.
Consequences of substance abuse are grave and include impaired judgment, increased risk for physical or sexual assault, brain development problems and even death. Substance abuse also contributes to the development of adult health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and sleep disorders. The earlier teens start using substances, the greater their chances of continuing to use and developing substance use problems later in life.
Dr. Kennedy encourages parents to look for signs of alcohol or drug abuse, such as academic or behavioral problems in school, change in friends, loss of interest in activities or appearance, slurred or incoherent speech, coordination problems, and memory or concentration problems. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening for substance use in children beginning at nine years of age.
Educating your children about the importance of taking care of their bodies, teaching them the right ways to take care of their health and setting a good example will help to put them on the path to healthy adulthood.