At Valleywise Health, we prioritize health for teenagers with state-of-the-art, adolescent care services that focus on the many unique challenges this age group faces. From dating and body image to substance use and mental health, let’s explore what the common health problems of a teenager are in 2021, as well as what you can do as a parent to support your child during these influential years.
What Does an Adolescent Checkup Look Like?
Since teenagers aren’t kids anymore — but also aren’t quite adults — we make sure to provide our developing patients with an age-appropriate experience. That means keeping mom and dad informed while giving the teen a safe space to speak with their doctor about issues they may not want to bring up around their parents.
It’s also important to always keep the focus on the teen and encourage them to speak for themselves. Beyond medical information, we want to learn about their interests, passions and who they are as a person so we can provide holistic, total-person care.
One of the first issues you should discuss with your adolescent is puberty — the physical change from childhood to adulthood. While you may want to push this off as long as you can, puberty could begin as early as age 8. Prepare your child beforehand by making them aware of things like body hair, a changing
voice, acne, periods and breast growth. You should also take your child in for a yearly checkup to ensure their development is on track. Starting these conversations early will help establish trust with your teen.
Body Image and Nutrition
Another common health problem of teenagers is body image. Although it’s important to encourage a healthy weight to avoid chronic conditions like diabetes, adolescents are also the most vulnerable age group for developing eating disorders. Make sure any discussion about their body doesn’t revolve around a number on the scale — but rather their overall nutrition, activity level and lifestyle. These tips may help:
- Eat fresh, colorful foods every day — make food in the kitchen rather than ordering out and keep healthy, plant-based snacks available to your teen at all times.
- Limit foods and drinks loaded with sugar, like soda and desserts.
- Encourage daily physical activity. Whether they walk around the block or play multiple sports, all exercise is good exercise.
When exploring the common health problems of a teenager, substance use should be one of your main areas of concern as a parent. Although teenagers today use less substances compared to earlier decades, they’re now more readily available and highly concentrated. For example, the cigarettes and marijuana you were warned about as a child now come in new, electronic forms — like e-cigarettes and THC cartridges — that are much easier to buy and conceal.
Make sure your teen is aware of the dangers without turning it into a lecture. Adolescents usually won’t respond well to direct criticism or think about the long-term effects, so most doctors use motivational interviewing, instead. Have your teenager practice the following process:
- Identify the consequences of partaking in the risky behavior.
- Find steps to avoid the behavior (or quit if use has already begun).
- Use real-world examples and role play to come up with a plan for future situations.
Mental health for teenagers has changed greatly in recent years. Now that nearly every adolescent has a cell phone, their peers can access them 24/7. Any bullying occurring during the school day can now carry over to the apps they use at home. Pay attention to your teen’s behavior, take their concerns seriously and be proactive about contacting their school if necessary.
Additionally, COVID-19 has led to increased depression and anxiety in teens due to online schooling, family financial struggles, death and other pandemic-related problems. Since adolescents can verbalize their feelings more effectively than children, let your teenager know that they can come to you with any mental issue. Then, help them find a trustworthy psychiatrist.
As your teen steps into the dating world, they should have all the resources they need to stay safe. Whether that’s birth control, condoms, STD testing or abstinence, it’s incredibly important that you start these conversations with your teenager early – because they likely won’t approach you for help in this area themselves.
What Else Can You Do to Encourage Health for Teenagers?
- Support your teen’s passions. No matter how silly their hobby or interest may seem to you, helping them stay involved in something they care about can keep them on track.
- Encourage open communication. Your teenager should know that they can come to you about anything at any time without judgment.
- Recognize that sometimes teens don’t want to talk. Find a balance between giving them space and letting them know they have support when they need it.