Adolescents need health checks, tooThe health routine is in place for parents of babies, but when it comes to teenage children, parents have few guidelines.
By: Ruth Nerhaugen, The Republican Eagle
The health routine is in place for parents of babies, but when it comes to teenage children, parents have few guidelines.
From birth to nearly 2 years, instructions are laid out clearly for parents, according to Tamara Kennedy, R.N., who is nursing supervisor for pediatrics in primary family services at Fairview Red Wing Medical Center.
Babies get regular checkups and immunizations. Parents literally have check lists addressing weight, development and other factors.
From about age 2 to 5, doctors see them regularly for all the childhood illnesses, fevers and ear infections, said Kennedy, who worked for 11 years in the Mayo Medical Center pediatric intensive care unit, labor and delivery. At 5 they get a kindergarten visit, and in seventh-grade, their vaccinations get updated.
“Then what?” she asked at a recent Women’s Health Fair presentation. “What are the needs of teenage children today?” Those needs are different for adolescents ages 12 to 18 — but they are just as important.
“Go back to the baby mindset,” Kennedy advised parents. “Monitor their nutrition, activity, emotions and sleeping habits — especially their emotions. Nurture them.”
Some areas to pay attention to:
1. Health food choices. “Have nutritious food available,” she said, recommending that adolescents have three servings a day of low-fat/nonfat milk and dairy products; fruits/vegetables; lean meats, chicken or fish for protein.
Limit sugary foods and soda pops; encourage them to drink water. And, she urged, eat as a family.
2. Dental hygiene. Teens should have regular visits to the dentist; should brush and floss; and parents should be aware of their need for fluoride.
3. Exercise. Youths should get 60 minutes of exercise daily, Kennedy said. Parents can contribute to this by cutting back on periods of inactivity — limiting television, videos/DVDs and computer use in favor of other activities. They also can support young people’s efforts to maintain a healthy weight. A clinic visit can help establish a healthy weight based on age, height and other factors.
4. Body image. “Talk with your kids about feelings about body image,” she suggested. “A parent’s attitude affects the child’s attitude.” Monitoring their exposure to television and its portrayal of attractive body image is another step. Kennedy recommended the book “How to Positively Influence Your Child’s Body Image,” and the Web site www.dove.com and the Campaign for Real Beauty.
Some tips from Kennedy regarding body image:
• Assure your child that weight gain is a normal part of development, especially during puberty.
• Avoid negative statements regarding food, weight, shape and size.
• Allow your child to make his/her food decisions, but have healthy snacks available.
• Compliment your child about his/her efforts, talents, accomplishments and personal values.
• Restrict television viewing; watch with your child and discuss the media images you see.
• Encourage your child’s school to enact policies against size and sexual discrimination, harassment, teasing and name-calling; there should be no public weigh-ins or fat measurements.
• Keep the lines of communication with your kids open.
5. Emotions. Adolescents are under a great deal of pressure and stress, Kennedy said. They have mood swings, highs and lows, including emotions of sadness and anger. If these emotions seem to be extreme, help is available.
6. Sleep habits. Parents should monitor their children’s sleep habits, she said. They need eight to 10 hours a night. Parents can get involved by removing distractions and maintaining house rules and routines, such as mandating a quiet bedroom with no television and establishing hours when cell phones must be turned off. Parents can monitor their children’s computer use, and set limits.
7. Sexuality. “Teens need to know correct information,” Kennedy said, advising parents to let children know their own moral beliefs. Doing so can help teens make smart decisions. She also recommended preventive maintenance, including health screening — especially for young people who are sexually active — during which physicians can provide information they need.
8. Prevention. Kennedy encouraged parents to continue bringing their children for annual visits, to make sure they have hearing and eye exams, to provide sports physicals, to get them vaccines, and to support them.
If they are set up on the My Chart system at Fairview, young people can e-mail their pediatricians themselves with questions.