Teenology 101

Should your teen take a gap year

Guest post by University of Washington Nursing student Alicia Spiess

As high school graduations are being celebrated across the country, our guest author has some thoughts on whether or not it might be a good option to take a year off before pursuing further education. In this post, we hear about the ‘gap year.’

According to Forbes, the average yearly in-state tuition for a 4-year university is $30,000. Private and “elite” universities can cost double that. An average of 70% of America’s high school graduates attend college, and of those attendees, 1 out of every 3 drop out. One alternative that is common in other countries for high school graduates not ready for university is to take a year off. A “gap year,” consisting of constructive learning, is an option that is not often talked about in this country. When I began college in 2001, I did not know a gap year was an option, and as I was in my early 30’s, I ended up taking a sabbatical because of my own burnout and desire to experience other cultures. Looking back, I may not have done anything differently because I felt I was ready for university, but there are so many youth out there today who may not feel the same.

A gap year in the case of our youth can be defined as taking a “sabbatical” in-between the time one completes high school and starts university. This can push youth to discover who one is as a unique individual and what one wants to do in the next phase of their life. A year is a common amount of time taken off, and shorter time periods are possible, but not as common. A gap year does not mean your teen will sit on the couch all day playing video games or watching TV, but rather should be spent learning responsibilities and discovering new possibilities. The youth in both Europe and Australia have been participating in gap years for decades beginning in the 1970’s. Currently 12% of Europe’s youth take a gap year compared to 1.2% of those in American. We have to think, is a gap year such a bad idea? Instead of pressuring our youth to go straight into college, can we be open to other options to ensure the long-term success and decreased burnout of our youth which could follow them into adulthood.

What is to be gained from taking a gap year? This additional year may help our youth gain personal or professional experience through volunteer work in a field of interest, working to learn trade, learning a second language, or exploring their personal interests, all of which will be of great value for them throughout their lifetime. In a YouGov survey, in which 251 human resource employees participated, 46% said they would be more likely to employ a graduate who participated in a “constructive” gap year. Other studies have shown that students who have taken a gap year had a higher likelihood of completing their degree and with higher GPAs than those who did not. In fact, 9 out of 10 youth who took a gap year returned to college and completed their degree successfully.

Taking a gap year is not without its challenges. Taking a year off may become expensive. Some ways your teen can overcome this obstacle is to start planning early by saving money, fundraising, or by asking friends and family to donate. Some colleges or universities allow students to defer a year which ensures their spot the following year. It seems there are far more advantages than disadvantages in taking a gap year before college for those who may need it. A gap year can help youth to gain identity, as well as give them an advantage when it comes to scholarship applications and resumes. Several resources are listed below to help guide you and your teen in making a decision as to whether a gap year is right for them.

Tips and Resources for Readers:
Tips:
1. Encourage your teens to explore their interests without swaying them.
2. Help your teens to discover who they are through support and encouragement.
3. Take some pressure off your teens to attend college or university straight out of high school when they are not ready.
Resources:
1. “College Costs Could Total As Much As $334,000 In Four Years” article
2. “Why Are Gap Years More Common in Europe than the US”
3. Book: “Gap Year: How Delaying College Changes People in Ways the World Needs”
4. University Deferral Policies for Gap Years: http://www.americangap.org/fav-colleges.php
5. Gap year Programs: https://usagapyearfairs.org/programs/
6. Choosing a program abroad: https://www.gooverseas.com/7. LEAPNOW Transforming Education: http://www.leapnow.org/

Can too much caffeine hurt you?

In my clinical work, I’ve seen many changes over the years. One of them is the consumption of caffeinated beverages as a ‘normal’ and even expected part of high school life. Most of my patients (and their parents) come into clinic visits with a beverage in hand. This varies from a latte to energy drinks. With the health of my patients in mind, I often wonder if this is safe.

Caffeine has many side effects: increased alertness, increased ability to concentrate are the reasons most adults drink coffee or tea in the morning (I usually do)! But there are some negative effects as well: jitteriness, heart palpitations, diarrhea, insomnia, muscle tremors. It can also lead to an irregular heart rhythm (cardiac arrhythmia) and even death. With many beverages and foods (like chocolate) containing caffeine, how much is too much? Turns out this question isn’t so simple. Everyone metabolizes caffeine differently. For children, it’s recommended caffeine be avoided completely, but for everyone else, the exact amount is a bit harder to pin down.

It’s thought that up to 400mg per day for an adult could be safe (about 4 large cups of coffee), but if you rarely drink coffee, even that could be too much. The recent death of a teen from caffeine consumption is making me take a hard look at how I counsel my patients (and friends and family members) about the dangers of too much caffeine.

Here are some tips for teens on caffeine intake:

  1. Limit caffeine to just a treat. Instead of a cup of coffee to get your day started, work on sleep hygiene and a good bedtime routine. Turn off electronics (yes, this includes the cell phone) an hour before sleep and try to go to bed and get up around the same time each day. In general, teens need 8-10 hours of sleep.
  2. Don’t drink energy drinks. Energy drinks (including ‘energy water’) can contain up to 200mg of caffeine and a significant amount of sugar.
  3. Avoid sugary beverages. A cola now and then is ok, but avoid drinking sugary drinks (like soda). Even non-cola sodas can contain caffeine (including the fruity ones and root beer). Plus regular drinking of sugary beverages is associated with increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.
  4. Don’t use diet pills. Diet pills contain a number of things that medical providers recommend avoiding, but one of them is a high amount of caffeine. If you want to make healthy changes, instead talk to your medical provider and nutritionist for guidance on eating balanced meals and increasing your daily movement (exercise, walking, dancing, etc).

 

Teen Suicide Prevention

The Netflix show, ’13 Reasons Why’ has sparked national discussion about teen suicide. In this post from the Seattle Children’s Hospital On the Pulse blog, I provide tips to parents and teens on warning signs of suicidal intent and how to talk this with loved ones.

What You Should Know About Teen Suicide

 

Prescription Opioid use Among Teens

In healthcare, the increased use of prescription opioid medications (pain medicines like codeine) has lead to a number of concerns including increased accidental ingestion by toddlers and young children, increase in non-medical uses of opioid drugs, and an increase in the use of non-prescription opioids (such as heroin) by people who become dependent on prescription medications.

The increase in prescription pain medications began back in the 1990’s when concerns arose that we (US medical providers) were not adequately treating pain. Asking patients if they had any pain when they checked in for medical visits became the ‘5th vital sign’ in addition to checking height, weight, blood pressure, and heart rate. While asking about and addressing pain is very important, there was an unintended consequence of increased prescribing of pain medications. Read full post »

Relationships, connection, and communication

I recently met a teen who had just broken up with her boyfriend. They go to the same school and have the same circle of friends.  For her, the break up was a tough choice, but she didn’t feel like they had a connection any longer. Instead of calling him or having the conversation to end the relationship face to face, she tweeted the break up. For me, this felt impersonal but for this teen, a tweet was just an alternative mode of communication that was convenient and effective.

In this day and age, we spend so little time actually communicating face to face. Our pace is fast: constantly on the go and instantly responding to the latest text, chat, or instant message. If we send a message and don’t receive an instant response there is concern that we’re not valued, that the person may be upset at us, or worry that something is wrong. What does this instant communication and ongoing use of social media mean for teens and their social development? The answer: we don’t really know. But we do have examples from the past. Read full post »

Helping your teen navigate self-care

Consider this scenario: you walk by your teen’s bedroom and over ear them having a deep conversation with a friend. While you don’t want to eaves drop, you realize their friend is disclosing thoughts of suicide. Your heart starts pounding… your teen is attempting to give advice to a friend who is considering ending their own life. You are worried about the friend, but you are also concerned that this could lead to anxiety and sadness in your teen. What do you do?

I’ve been asked for advice in this situation over and over again. Sometimes it’s my patients who ask me for advice on what they should say to their friends, but often it is parents who want to know if it’s ok for their child to be someone’s confidant? They are worried that their teen isn’t equipped to handle the situation (neither emotionally or with reliable crisis information to give to the friend). Read full post »

Confidentiality and why it’s important for teens

Recently a colleague told me about an encounter that left me thinking, ‘as Pediatricians, we really need to do a better job of explaining confidentiality!’ They were seeing a teen for a follow up visit and had asked the medical assistant to put the patient in room without the parent. The parent became very upset that their 18 year old was seeing the provider alone and complained to the front desk staff in the clinic. From my perspective, as an provider who specializes in adolescent health, rooming an 18 y/o without their parent seemed like standard practice. But what was neglected was the explanation to the teen AND their parent about why this is done. As a parent myself, I can empathize with the frustration the parent likely felt. They came to the appointment with their teen, they’re likely going to receive the office bill and pay it, and the teen lives with them, so they are likely very involved in the youth’s life. So why is confidentiality and the opportunity for teens to visit with their health care providers important? Read full post »

Intimate Partner Violence

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Dating violence goes by a number of different terms: intimate partner violence (IPV) or dating violence. It’s described as ‘physical, sexual, or psychological harm’ by a current or former partner. For teens (and adults), it may be hard to know when actions in a relationship have crossed the line into IPV. If a partner is controlling but not violent is that ok? If a partner prefers you don’t hang out with friends unless they are around is that normal? Read full post »

Transgender Youth: parents in transition

If you’re the parent of a youth with a non-binary gender identity or a youth who identifies as transgender, you may be going through or have gone through a number of emotions. These may include love, fear, sadness, grief, pride, worry, and happiness. Parents may feel loss for the idea or image of the child they had that has been replaced with the child who is asking for transition or pride that your child has the courage to speak up for their needs. You may have concern about the future barriers your child may face or happiness that your child is comfortable trusting you. All of these emotions are expected and no parent is going to have the exact same experience as another, however, there are some described stages that parents of transgender youth may experience.

In this post, guest author Christine Sogn Mental Health Therapist will help us briefly go through these stages. Read full post »

Happy New Year 2017

This time of year most of my friends, patients, and colleagues are in full holiday mode: they’ve prepared for large family gatherings, are taking vacation from school, or working on setting their New Year’s resolutions. Most people are both stressed with the preparation but also in a good mood and excited to spend time with family and friends.

As I start the New Year and reflect on the memories made this holiday season, I’m also reminded that I have a lot to be thankful for. I’m in good health, a spouse who loves me, happy kids, solid housing, and if I need anything I have a great group of family and friends who I trust to help (this includes emotional and financial need). However, I’m routinely reminded of my privileges as I drive along the freeway and see the tents set up by the homeless, view media accounts of children being bombed in countries overseas, or take care of patients whose parents pull me aside to tell me they can’t afford to purchase any gifts, I know I can’t take my life for granted.

Recognizing my privilege, I ask myself, ‘How can I, as a parent, teach my children to not take things for granted and recognize humanity in others?’ This is a big question without simple answers, but I wanted to share a few tips my parents taught me while growing up.

  1. Volunteer. This exposes you to new people; teaches you skills such as showing up on time, work ethic, and humility; and can be extremely rewarding.
  2. Donate. Donate time, money, skills, etc. There is going to be someone who is in need of help and can benefit from your donation, no matter how big or small.
  3. Have empathy. Everyone has a story, but they may not share the details.
  4. Treat people with kindness. A smile for the person holding a sign on the street corner acknowledges their existence and shows that you see them even if you don’t give them anything else.
  5. People will always remember how you made them feel. The emotions that accompany actions have significant impact. You may not be remembered for what you said, but you will be remembered for how people felt when they were around you.

I hope you and your family have had a good start to 2017. Have a wonderful New Year!