Teenology 101

How much sleep do teens need?

insomniaSleep. Such an elusive thing to have enough of! As parents, we’re juggling work, family, and personal obligations. Sleep often comes second to the other tasks that need to be accomplished during the day. Teens in our country are also struggling to be productive and find the balance between sleep and obligations. Unfortunately, US teens are not getting enough sleep and this can have consequences.

There are many reasons why sleep may be elusive for adolescents. They may have extracurricular committments such as work, homework, sports, clubs, youth groups or all of the above. Or they may have poor sleep hygiene and spend their time on social networking sites, texting with friends, watching movies, or listening to music. If they aren’t sleeping enough at night, they may feel so exhausted during the day that they take long naps, which further disrupts sleep patterns. Middle and high school start times are quite early, so it’s not out of the norm to hear my patients describe waking up at 5am to get ready to catch a bus or ride to school. Nor is it abnormal to hear them going to bed after midnight on school days. Read full post »

Preventing substance use

UW guide for parents studyPreventing substance use during the middle school years

By Sabrina Oesterle, PhD, Social Development Research Group, School of Social Work, University of Washington

Does your daughter crave your attention, but doesn’t want to be seen with you in public? Is your son always too busy to talk to you, but talks or texts with friends constantly on his cell phone? Does your daughter spend hours in front of the mirror, but is never satisfied with how she looks? Is your child full of energy and happy one day and the next day grumpy and can’t get off the couch?

If any of these scenarios sound familiar – welcome to the middle school years!

The years between about age 11 and 14 are filled with a wonderful mix of emotions and concerns for you and your child. It’s a time of great contrasts when your child is still at times very much a child – full of innocence and seeking your love and attention – but also quickly turning into a teenager needing independence and craving attention and validation from peers. During the middle school years, your child will be exposed to a host of new experiences – many are opportunities for positive growth, but others can be risky. Read full post »

A Mom’s Place in Violence Prevention

African-American single-parent familyWhen I turned on the news this week and watched emerging coverage of the violence in Baltimore, my heart sank because so many of the people involved appeared to be adolescents.  I thought about everything that led up to this: a system of poverty, undereducation, inequality, and bias that contributed to the anger and actions of these youth.   Coincidentally, I happened to be at a pediatric research conference where I had just learned of a study showing that adolescent boys who reported having a supportive family member (mostly mothers, but also fathers, grandparents, aunts, and uncles) were less likely to be involved in violence than boys without such support.  That’s why I was so interested to see the story of Toya Graham, a mom in Baltimore who was caught on tape disciplining her son after she saw him among rioters.

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Implicit bias

Students Sitting on StepsMedia coverage of numerous events involving police shootings of innocent African Americans has spurred the nation to consider the biases we hold. Every person holds assumptions. Simply living in a set culture, individuals take on behaviors and associations that are prevelant in the society. Sometimes these associations are helpful and sometimes they are not.

Examples that call out our implicit bias are showing up all over social media. I recently saw a social media post that described showing 3 cartoon pictures of 10 year old boys to a group of school kids. One cartoon pictured an overweight boy, one was thin with glasses, and the last was able bodied and dressed in trendy clothing. The school children labeled the boys. The overweight one they called ‘lazy,’ the thin boy was the ‘nerd’ or ‘smart’ and the final boy was ‘popular.’ The next day, there was a post that took loved ones and dressed them like they were homeless and placed them on the street. Their own family members walked right by and didn’t acknowledge their existence. These were spouses, siblings, best friends who were ignored because their look was changed and they were placed in a different context. Read full post »

Social Media, Shaming, and How To Respond When Teens Make Mistakes

iStock_000015335905_DoubleRecently, Monica Lewinsky gave a TED talk titled “The Price of Shame” that has become a viral sensation with millions of views.  In the talk, Lewinsky boldly shares her experiences around the exposure of her affair with President Bill Clinton in the 1990s and the fallout of that scandal, which was fueled by the rapid spread of information (and misinformation) on the Internet.  She also points out that when the affair began, she was just 22 years old–an age that experts say is still part of adolescence.  Yet the public shaming for her mistake (which she says she “regrets deeply”) has been carried throughout all parts of her adult life.  Teens and young adults will make mistakes–how can we help them learn from them, rather than be defined by them?

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Whole Nutrition in Schools

eating strawberryThe American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently released a policy statement on food in schools emphasizing a “whole nutrition” approach to food that is consumed in school.  This could include breakfast, lunch, and/or snacks.  The writers point out that there have already been changes in school lunches to make cafeteria food more nutritious, but lunches that students bring to school might not meet healthy standards.  Having healthy, nutritious meals throughout the school day is essential for concentration in class and performance in sports and gym class.  How can parents help teens eat healthy at school?

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Hazing and teens

safety in numbersLast fall, just as I went on maternity leave, there was an incident involving hazing on the East Coast that received quite a bit of media attention. It involved a group of teens from a local New Jersey high school football team and occurred at the time of homecoming. The teens allegedly held down other teens and touched or groped them in a sexually explicit way. One teen was also kicked. In the news article that covered the incident, the responses from adults in the community varied widely. One mother reported: “No one was hurt, no one died — I don’t understand why they’re being punished.” Her comment made me consider the question: “Is hazing ever okay?” Read full post »

Positive Praise for teens with chronic illness

girl and dadAs a medical provider who cares for many teens I am constantly amazed by their accomplishments, tenacity, and juggling of busy schedules. Teens with chronic illness have even more challenges than those with more typical health. I sometimes we adults forget to give credit where credit is due, so I’d like to highlight some of the characteristics I’ve noticed amongst my patients over the years. I’d encourage parents to also take a moment to give your teen some positive praise too! Read full post »

Electronic Music, raves, and substance use

DJ partyI’ve heard advertisments on the radio recently for a popular electronic music concert festival. Music festivals are often a place for young people to gather, create memories, and just enjoy their favorite artisits. While I am a big fan of live music, summer music festivals have been associated with drug overdoses in the past. The concert venues do their best to keep the festivals clean by having security present, a screening process for entry, and help available, but there is still a risk that people will get high. Since the summer is coming along with many different outdoor festivals, it’s timely to provide parents and teens with an update on some newer substances that may make an appearance. Read full post »

Body image and acceptance

I was looking at a social media page recently and saw a video that struck a cord with me. There is a new video campaign that portrays girls ages 5-11 years old with curly hair. These girls tell all the things they dislike about their hair. In the end, the mothers of the girls show them how positive and amazing it is to be unique. The final message to the consumer is that people are more likely to be accepting of themselves if those around them also have positive self-image (i.e. the girls will love their curls if their own moms love their hair). The purpose of the campaign is to sell hair products, but watching this video reminded me not only of my patients, who often come to see me with poor self-esteem and distorted body image, but of my own youth. See video here Read full post »