Teenology 101

Cancer and Teens

We all hope that everyone in our family has a long healthy life, but sometimes health is put in jeopardy. Each year around 70,000 teens and young adults ages 15-35 are diagnosed with cancer. With the diagnosis of cancer, many people envision bald heads, the nausea associated with chemotherapy, and the threat of death. For teens facing the diagnosis, there are many other things that come to mind.

Adolescence is already a time of change. Teens are pulling away from family, spending more time with friends, experimenting in many different ways (relationships, sports, driving, sometimes drugs and alcohol), and really trying to figure out who they are as an individual. The diagnosis of cancer can threaten this normal development. With the diagnosis comes treatment. Treatment often involves chemotherapy and/or radiation that can involve hospitalization. If a teen is in the hospital, they aren’t in school. This means they aren’t going to classes, hanging out with friends, and learning to drive. All of this can lead to falling behind in course work, lost relationships with peers, and even poor self esteem and depression. Read full post »

How to Get Your Teen to Lose Weight, Part 3: Exercise

Exercise is good for us. It strengthens our bones and our muscles, and keeps our joints in working order. It prevents and can reverse high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and insomnia. It is the best way to avoid heart disease. It improves our immune system. Exercise has been clinically shown to improve mental health, including helping to alleviate depression and anxiety. It reduces the risk of dementia in our older years. And, of course, it helps people to maintain a healthy weight. With the exception of some people who cannot exercise for medical reasons (like a heart problem or eating disorder), reaping the benefits of exercise is one of the best things we can do for our health. Exercise is highly recommended for teens who want to lose weight, maintain a healthy weight, or just maintain a healthy body and mind.

But, in general, Americans don’t get enough exercise. There are numerous reasons for that. Some of them are simply our society changing; we don’t work in the fields, walk miles to school or work, or spend hours hanging up clothes to dry. Video games and personal computers, which involve lots of sitting, are relatively recent inventions. With “urban sprawl” comes less of an ability to walk to destinations, as it’s not efficient or sometimes even feasible not to drive. Some areas are simply not conducive to outdoor exercise: they lack sidewalks, have high crime rates, or are easy to get lost in.

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Social Networking Sites and Teen communication

Teens have always found ways to communicate that exclude adults. When I was a teen, we used slang terms like ‘fresh’ and ‘word’ to speak to each other. Cell phones were only used by the select few who were wealthy, pagers were still cool, and email was a brand new idea that was mainly used by people in corporate America to send office memos.

Teens in the 21st century have the advantage of having amazing technology at their disposal to use for communication. Chat rooms used to scare parents in the past. Now teens can text friends all night long, access the internet 24 hours a day with smart phones, or talk to friends who’ve moved away using webcams that are a standard feature on laptops. Social networking sites are now the place where the latest gossip is shared, or the newest ideas are exchanged. Our lives are no longer shared only with those who can come visit us at home, they are shared with friends (and strangers) around the world in cyberspace. Read full post »

How to Get Your Teen to Lose Weight, Part 2: Revving up

So you’ve been to see your primary care provider, as we discussed in Part 1, and your teen has been medically cleared. Now you are looking at the challenge of fitting activity into their schedule, and changing their eating habits. Where to start?

Start with yourself. Or rather, start with the whole family. If your whole family (except for your teen) gets 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, engages in physical activity 6 days a week, avoids soda and sugary beverages, and focuses on health and activity instead of numbers on the scale… Congratulations! My hat is off to you. For the rest of us, there is room for improvement!

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Teens and birth control: barrier methods

 Reproductive health and birth control for teens is a topic every parent should know about.  I want to emphasize that the only way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections 100% of the time is to not have sex at all, but parents and teens should be aware of birth control methods available. This is the third post in a series of 3 on birth control (also known as contraception) for parents of teens.

With sexual activity come a lot of responsibilities that teens likely will not be equipped to handle without help. As was stated in previous posts on Hormone Containing Methods and Emergency Contraception, in the US, about 46% of all high school kids have had sex. Only 23% were on birth control and 61% had used a condom the last time they had sex (Centers for Disease Control).  For parents, having open communication with your teens about expectations and family values is an effective way to help your teen wait to have sex until they are older.   Talk with your teen early and often in order teach them how to be aware of consequences and how to protect themselves from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections if they decide to become sexually active. See our post on Tips for Talking to Your Teen About Sex.

There are many types of birth control and it is best to pick a method that fits into a person’s lifestyle.  If your teen is interested in birth control, speak with their doctor to find a method BEFORE they start having sex if at all possible.  I’ll summarize barrier methods (condoms) in this post. Read full post »

How to Get Your Teen to Lose Weight, Part 1: How to Begin?

If you’re concerned that your teen is overweight or obese, how on earth do you bring it up?

Weight can be a really hard topic for parents to bring up with their kids. You don’t want to hurt their self-esteem or make them feel badly about themselves- especially during the teenage years, when confidence is so fragile to begin with. Some parents do comment on their teen’s weight directly, which can cause feelings of resentment, defiance, and guilt. Others try to soften the observances by couching them in a joking manner, which is unlikely to be helpful- see Teasing About Weight Hurts.

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School Avoidance in Teens

Help!  I can’t get my teen to go to school.

The good news and the bad news is that this is not an unusual problem.  At least 5% of children refuse to attend school or remain in class an entire day and some studies show that some form of chronic absenteeism affects 28% of youth some time in their lives.


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Teens and carpooling

Remember when you first got your driver’s license?  Did your friends want to ride with you to school, parties, sports events? I know mine did.  I had no idea how dangerous carpooling as a teen could be until I had the frightening experience of spinning a 360 degree turn on a 4 lane road with my best friend in the front passenger seat.  We’d been talking, I was inexperienced behind the wheel, and was distracted. It scared me enough to reconsider driving with a full car that winter.

We recently had a post on teenage driving and its risks. In Washington state, graduated drivers licensing is in place to help increase experience behind the wheel before allowing full driving rights, and decrease teen accidents. But even with the added experience, teens are still at risk when driving, especially if  their car is packed with friends. Read full post »

Helping Eating Disordered Teens Cope with the Holidays

The winter holidays are a time for family, celebration… and eating more than we do the other ten months of the year. I’m exaggerating (kind of), but there’s no doubt that our holidays are focused around foods. Right now, in the Adolescent Medicine office, there are at least three plates of homemade cookies from three different staff members, plus some salted caramels and walnut fudge.

Most people have no problem with having a few delicious cookies, but for teens with eating disorders, the rich foods flying around can cause severe distress. Teens that restrict their diets may not be able to resist a cookie or two, and then suffer intense guilt and shame. Teens that binge-eat may find themselves overwhelmed with- and binging on- the ready sweets and treats that the holidays present.

You may have a teen with an eating disorder, or you may have a relative or friend who does. These are some tips to help make the holidays easier for these teens and their families. My work was cut out for me with this post; our nurse Gail Allen already came up with a patient education flyer to give to families during the holidays, and I am simply paraphrasing her work! Read full post »

Teenage Stepkids

With the divorce rate in the U.S. around 40-50% (depending on how you slice the statistics), many adults are remarrying or re-committing into families where there are already children. Sometimes a remarriage involves taking on the role of parenting teenage stepchildren. Adolescent stepchildren are different from younger stepchildren; they are dealing with the normal adolescent urge to break away from family and create their own identity, even as you come in and change the makeup of their family.

Ideally, you’re starting to work on this long before you become an “official” stepparent. If you’re going to marry a parent and live with their kids, even part of the time, those kids deserve to get to know you well before you actually join the family. This includes not just fun family outings and trips, but spending time with them during their everyday life doing homework, spending a lazy day in, getting into family arguments, or cleaning out the garage.

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