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If you know the signs, you can help thwart these common health issues affecting your teens today.
By Lori Zimbardi
eenagers today are faced with a myriad of challenges. Juggling school, sports, relationships and social activities are enough to cause any kid stress and fatigue. Throw in the desire to succeed, keeping up with trends in social media and the effects of peer pressure, and it is no wonder that our teenagers have health issues. “Lifestyle choices
many teens make today have led to a growing number of unique health issues,” says Dr. Colin Christensen, a family medicine physician. “Parents need to be aware of these issues and know where to find reliable information as well as when to seek medical advice.” The following are five health issues teens are facing today and tips on what to do about them:
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Stress, anxiety and low self-esteem go hand in hand and are leading kids down a path of sadness and despair. Many teens, especially girls, have a misplaced perception of their worth that can, and often does, lead to depression. The trick is noticing the signs of possible depression and jumping in to get your teen professional help when needed. The signs to look for include a change in behavior, such as a lost appetite and irregular sleep patterns, and poor school performance, such as inability to concentrate, lack of interest and a withdrawal from regular activities, according to Michael Strober, PhD, clinical psychologist and senior consultant to the Pediatric Mood Disorders Program at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute. If you suspect your teen of suffering from depression, getting help and direction from your doctor is always the best idea. He or she can recommend a psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in adolescents. In the meantime, offer your unconditional support and listen if they want to talk without offering advice, so they know you aren’t trying to fix or change them.
Accountability is the answer. Talk to your kids about the consequences and monitor their Internet use at home or on their smartphones. And though it may not be cool to them, friending or following your kids on social media sites allows you to see what they are posting and what others are posting to them.
Gone are the days of playground bullies demanding lunch money at the threat of a knuckle sandwich or the dreaded swirly. With the Internet so easily accessible 24 hours a day and a smartphone in the hands of most teens, the cyberbully is emerging as a dangerous threat. According to Dr. Sybil Keane, a clinical psychologist, “The reason for this cyberbullying trend is simple: they do it because they can.” The anonymity that the Internet provides allows for easier and longer access to the recipient. Cyberbullying doesn’t have to stop when the school gates close; the Internet is always available. Those threats do not just disappear once they are sent. What is put out into cyberspace can stay there indefinitely and may continue to haunt and hurt the victim.
When Laura, a mother of two from Southern California, was 16 years old, she had her first sip of alcohol. On the kitchen counter after Christmas dinner, a left-over bottle of wine sat with just enough inside for a taste. That same year, she took a drag of a cigarette that she found smoldering in an ashtray. Her burning lungs and uncontrollable cough, along with her distaste for the wine, squashed any desire to continue her teen quest for alcohol, cigarettes and rebellion, but the opportunity was there to be introduced to an addiction. “I wanted to like it,” said Laura, I just couldn’t do it more than once.” According to Jim Ramstad, a Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) board member who also chaired the National Advisory Commission, “Teen substance use is our nation’s number one public health problem. Smoking, drinking and using other drugs while the brain is still developing dramatically hikes the risk of addiction and other devastating consequences.” Preventing our kids from drinking alcohol and using tobacco and other drugs or at least delaying when they first come in contact with it, may diminish their chances of becoming addicted. If they don’t have easy access, even on Christmas, it will make it harder for them to take that first drink or try that first cigarette. Or worse. Susan Foster, CASA’s Vice President and Director of Policy Research and Analysis states, “We rightfully worry about other teen health problems like obesity, depression or bullying, but we turn a blind eye to a more common and deadly epidemic that we can in
The key to prevention lies in knowledge, awareness, education and action. Knowledge of the possible health issues that affect teenagers today. Awareness of what is actually going on in their lives. Education to know how to deal with the problems and swift action so the issues of their youth do not follow them into adulthood.
fact prevent. Foster adds, “The problem is not that we don’t know what to do, it’s that we are failing to act.” As a parent, action starts by locking up all drugs and alcohol. Trust your gut instincts and if you have a hunch something might be going on, take steps to find out. Know who your teen’s friends are and meet their parents. Most importantly, get them professional help when needed.
Perryann, a 17-year-old high school senior from Riverside, California, is a
regular in the dermatology office. Every eight weeks she has two to three suspicious moles removed and biopsied. The ones that come back abnormal (all but one has been abnormal in the past two years) are then surgically extracted (picture an apple coring utensil forced into the apple and twisting out the core). When her stitches are removed, the results are unsightly scars where the moles once were. Five years ago, her pediatrician, dismissed the subtle changes in her moles, saying she was too young to develop melanoma. Fast forward three years, and with a referral slip to the dermatologist in hand, Dr. Ravi Berry, a general practice pediatrician and pediatric gastroenterologist commented that he was now seeing skin cancers in children as young as 8 years old. Though it was routine to dismiss moles in teenagers a few years prior, especially those moles smaller in diameter than a pencil eraser, he could no longer ignore the fact that teens were getting skin cancer. According to cancer experts at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, melanoma, a deadly cancer of the skin’s pigment elements, cause 10 percent of cancer cases in teens ages 15 to 19. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that childhood is the most important time for developing moles, an important risk factor for skin cancer. There is some evidence that sun exposure in childhood heightens the risk of melanoma by increasing the number of moles. Luckily all of Perryann’s moles have been caught in time. She is scheduled to have two removed from her head in the next month which will require a plastic surgeon so she is not left with a bald spot. As for her daily routine, Perryann says, “I now stay out of the sun, apply lots of sunscreen and I put scar cream on to lessen the redness of the scars. Had I known years ago that I would be going through this now, I would have stayed out of the sun as much as possible when I was younger.” The Environmental Protection Agency recommends these tips for skin cancer protection: Stay out of the sun, seek
shade and avoid sun tanning and tanning beds. Generously apply sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 that provides “broad spectrum” protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Reapply every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating. Wear protective clothing, such as a widebrimmed hat and sunglasses, when possible. The bottom line is that the UV light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer. As parents, it is our job to make sure our kids are protected from unnecessary sunburns and teach them how to guard themselves against skin cancer as they reach their teenage years and beyond.
In a world where perfect is defined by fashion models and savvy Photoshop artists, being perfect and fitting in is, unfortunately, considered a benchmark for happiness. Teenagers are not only struggling with obesity, but the fear of gaining weight is leading to other eating disorders, psychological issues and poor body image. A National Eating Disorders Association Fact Sheet revealed a 40 percent increase of newly identified cases of anorexia in girls ages 15 to 19 years old in 2010. It also found that bulimia affects one to two percent of adolescents and young adults and is frequently associated with depression and changes in social adjustment. If your child suffers from an eating disorder, experts recommend that parents promote healthy eating and balance the calories you serve. Encourage teenagers to have meals with the family. Eating together will help your teenager make better choices about the food that he or she eats, promote a healthy weight and give family members time to talk. Show affection and respect your teenager’s opinion while listening to him or her without playing down his or her concerns. Parental love and support will go a long way in helping your teen through the healing process. MS&F
According to a 2011 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that obesity affects over two million teenagers in the United States alone. Obesity not only leads to other major health problems such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes, but it leads to psychological issues due to being ostracized by peers and not conforming to what society claims as being acceptable.
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This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?