(BPT) - As teens and young adults mature, they gradually become more responsible for different aspects of their own lives, including their health.
To help facilitate this sometimes challenging transition from adolescence to adulthood, parents should talk to their teens and college-aged kids early and often about important health-related topics, from sexual health to vaccination. Parents who facilitate a regular, open dialogue with their teens and young adults about their health can help them make smart decisions as they begin to take more control over their health care and personal wellbeing.
Here are some conversation topics you can use to help your teen thrive.
Important health information
A good first step to help adolescents begin to manage their own health is to ensure they understand important personal health information like their medical history and existing conditions, allergies to medications or foods and their current prescriptions. It's also important for parents to make sure that their teens are aware of their current health insurance. Teens who are knowledgeable about their own health and family health history will feel more confident during a visit with their health care provider.
As teens get older, doctors visits tend to occur only when they are sick, or for sports and school physicals. Parents should encourage teens to actively participate in scheduling annual doctor visits and a pre-college exam to make sure that all of their medical information and other necessary medical care, including recommended immunizations, are up to date. Armed with their personal health knowledge, these check-ups can begin the transition from parental supervised health care to health care that young adults are personally responsible for. While parents should maintain an open dialogue with their kids about their health, they should also encourage their kids to talk to their doctor about any health questions or concerns.
Young people often engage in or experiment with different behaviors as they mature, some of which may be dangerous to their health and wellbeing. For example, 72 percent of students consume alcohol by the end of high school, and nearly nine of every 10 adult smokers started by age 18. Parents can have a meaningful impact on their teen's decisions about alcohol, tobacco, sexual health and other risky behaviors by having short, frequent discussions with them and encouraging an open dialogue. But parents are not the only avenue for these conversations. Adolescence is a critical time for health care providers to speak to teens and young adults about topics like substance abuse, reproductive health, mental health and stress concerns.
The Internet is generally an important influence in teens' lives, serving as a valuable source of information, allowing teens to stay in touch with friends and family, and helping them to stay informed about current events. However, since the advent of social networking sites, the way in which adolescents explore and form their identities has dramatically changed. Without proper guidance and safeguards, the Internet and social media can potentially cause harm to adolescent users, damaging their self-esteem, encouraging unhealthy or risky behaviors, and even, in rare instances, incurring legal consequences. Parents should talk to their teens about social media usage and expectations, as well as affirm the positive aspects of social media in meeting their needs to socialize and explore their identity.
Between academic challenges and social pressures, high school and college can be a stressful time. It's important for parents to acknowledge that their kids could be facing mental health issues like depression, ADHD, or other serious conditions, like eating disorders. Depression can occur at any age, but many people begin to experience symptoms during their college years. No parent wants to see their child suffer, but it's important for parents to let their kids know that they are there to lend an ear and help them through stressful or difficult times, or help connect them with support resources.
Talking to me
Although parents will not be the only influence in their teens' lives, they can be one of the best and most impactful even during the later teen and young adult years. Parents should strive to foster and maintain an open dialogue with their adolescent children and continue to talk with them about their health and wellness as they mature. There are tools and resources to help accomplish this. Parents can jump start conversations with their kids and keep track of their health information with the THRIVE (Teen/Young Adult Health Resources, Information and Vaccine Education) app, developed by the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine in collaboration with Pfizer and UNITY Consortium, and available for free on both Apple(R) and Android(TM) products.
The app provides parents with a mobile resource to help teens and young adults ages 16 to 25 understand their role in and increase ownership over their own health. The app includes helpful functions like the ability to search for an adolescent health specialist nearby, easily shareable checklists for parents to keep track of important items related to their children's health, and the ability to take snapshots of vaccine records. Also included is health information, tips, and conversation starters that parents can share with their children, and other parents, to help start a dialogue with their children about their health.
To learn more about and download the THRIVE app, go to tinyurl.com/SAHM-THRIVE