During the adolescent years our patients and their parents are navigating the course from being dependent children to becoming independent young adults. Stressors during this time include expected and normal body changes of puberty, the nutritional needs of rapidly growing bodies, the impact of electronics and social media, driving safety, risks of substance use and abuse, exploring sexuality, and the academic and social challenges of school and extracurricular activities. This transition to adulthood can be challenging for adolescents and parents alike.
We try to keep a helpful list of counselors in the area that can be very helpful navigating stress, anxiety, depression and other concerns. You may access it here.
The teenage years are typically when the bodies of both girls and boys complete their transition to maturation. Often having the body of an adult but still the emotional and social experience of a child can lead to a confusing time. This is an important time to be open to questions and conversations about body changes and that everyone will complete puberty in their own time and their own way. Discuss with your child subjects like respect for their own body and the bodies of others.
Here are some resources to help navigate this sometimes difficult conversation:
There are some excellent books to help with this topic as well:
Nutrition & Exercise
Adolescents continue to have changing bodies that require healthy fuel and daily exercise to stay healthy. These healthy habits improve school performance, sleep and reduce stress.
It is important to approach food in a healthy way, avoiding using terms such as “diet.” There continues to be an increasing number of eating disorders in teenagers and even in younger children. Warning signs of an eating disorder can include things such as dramatic weight loss, being very preoccupied or focused on food and calories, restricting or refusing certain foods, dressing in layers to hide weight loss or stay warm, making excuses to avoid meals, development of food rituals such as moving food around on the plate or excessive chewing, loss of menstruation (getting a period), an increased or rigid exercise regimen and withdrawing from friends or activities. If you have concerns about your child regarding these behaviors please reach out to our office.
Smartphones and Social Media
Smartphones and social media have become an integral part of the life of a teenager (and sometimes for kids even younger). Related to smartphone use, there are increasing concerns for rising anxiety, depression, poor communication, reduced sleep and general stress in our young people. Make sure your child understands that whatever they post online will always be out there somewhere (even if it disappears on the app they are using); never post inappropriate photos or comments. We encourage parents to educate themselves on programs their children are using and to set limits at home where there are electronic -free zones, such as the bedroom and at meal times.
We encourage families to have a contract for smartphone use at home. You can see examples here:
Learning to drive is an exciting milestone. However, half of all teens will be involved in a car crash before graduating high school so safety is very important. Teen drivers who continue to practice with their parents decrease their chances of having an accident. Most crashes are due to teenage drivers being inexperienced.
Use of addictive substances including alcohol, nicotine, marijuana and other drugs during adolescence often interferes with brain development, reduces academic performance, and increases the risk of accidents, death and addiction. The earlier someone uses these substances, the more likely they are to develop an addiction. Warning signs of teen substance abuse can include alcohol or smoke odors on breath or clothing, obvious intoxication or strange behavior, changes in choice of friends, sudden mood swings or violent behavior, changes in dress or grooming, disrupted sleeping patterns, loss of interest in activities, sudden decline in school performance, depressed mood or delinquent behavior/running away.
It is important to talk to your child and teen starting at an early age.
Vaping or “juuling” has become increasingly popular with teenagers. This is the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol produced by an e-cigarette or similar device. Many of the cartridges come in fun flavors, another draw to teens. Teenagers often believe since this does not produce smoke and is not tobacco that it must not be as unhealthy or dangerous as cigarettes. This is a false assumption as vaping causes inhalation of very fine particles including toxic chemicals thought to be linked to cancer and respiratory and heart disease.
Sexuality develops and changes throughout your child’s life. It can be a confusing and sometimes embarrassing time during adolescence. Sexuality is not just about sex but about how your child feels about their developing body, makes healthy choices and decisions about their own body, understands and expresses feelings of intimacy, attraction and affection for others and develops an maintains respectful relationships. You can support your child by talking to them openly about these subjects.