Adolescents and Health Concerns

Youth have many options for procuring health care information.  In addition to healthcare professionals, parents and friends, they also have the internet.  We surveyed a nationally-representative sample of 5th through 12th grade youth in the US.  Our goal was to understand where youth obtain health care information.  Over half said they turn to their parents and/or a doctor or other health professional for health care information.  However, 25-33% also gleaned health care information from potentially unreliable sources, such as magazines, television shows, newspapers and the internet.  Of further concern, 10% responded that they did not know where to get health care information.

The survey also asked if there were adolescent health topics that they wouldn’t discuss with their health care provider.  Over one-third of boys and girls said they would be too embarrassed, afraid or uncomfortable talking about physical or sexual abuse, menstruation, body changes and sexuality.

Opportunities for improvement

Adolescent health is too important not to discuss.  We can be better advocates for adolescent health care, asking youth appropriate questions and providing them private opportunities to discuss sensitive topics.  Health care professionals and others can work on establishment of a good rapport, taking time out to listen to teens, assuring and maintaining confidentiality, and helping them access appropriate information when needed.

Taking Care vs. Caretaking

It’s not uncommon for me to hear people struggle with balancing their own needs and those of others.  Some err on the side of being highly self-focused, while others veer more toward being a caretaker.  But an extreme caretaking role can be a problem if you lose sight of the importance of taking care of yourself.

If you’ve ever flown in an airplane and listened to the safety instructions prior to take-off, you’ve probably heard something like this: “In the even of a loss of cabin air pressure, oxygen masks will drop down.  Please secure your own oxygen mask before assisting those around you.”  Essentially, this is stressing to us that we are less able, perhaps fully unable, to help others when we are gasping ourselves for air (e.g., feeling overwhelmed, overcommitted, stressed, physically or mentally compromised).  So, it’s important to take care of yourself — not only for your own good, but so that you can be available to help others as well.

Parents Make a Difference

In my discussions with parents, I often hear the distress in their voices, wondering if they are making a difference in the life of their son or daughter.  They ask questions such as how to help their child avoid substance use, handle teasing/bullying, feel confident and build solid self-esteem.  While the solutions to these topics may take time to implement, one thing remains true: parents can and do make a difference.  As we found in a 2006 study, adolescents who perceive that their parents (mother and/or father) care about them, feel as though they can talk to them, and value their opinions (even if they don’t heed the advice!) are adolescents who have stronger mental health.  These are the adolescents who are less likely to experience depression and low self-esteem.  They are also less likely to use substances, engage in unhealthy weight control behaviors, and attempt suicide.

Parents can make significant strides toward helping their kids feel valued by taking time on a regular basis to listen with full attention, making eye contact during conversations, and refraining from quick judgment or providing solutions to the problem.  Focus instead on holding a discussion in which pros and cons of many solutions to a problem are discussed, and seek to help the young person make an appropriate decision on his or her own.

Reference:  Ackard DM, Neumark-Sztainer D, Story M & Perry C. (2006). Parent-child connectedness and behavioral and emotional health among adolescents. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 30 (1), 59-66.  Abstract can be found here.


Parenting Speaker Event Nov 13

This year’s Edina PCN National Speaker Forum is on Tuesday, November 13th at 7pm.

Dr. David Walsh, will offer information about 21st century challenges facing families today. In Parenting with the Brain in Mind, Dr. Walsh will translate groundbreaking discoveries in neuroscience into practical parenting advice about learning, emotions, memory and connection. Specific topics include: Parenting in a technology age, (cyberbullying, sexting, screen addiction); multi-tasking & focused attention; self-discipline; tween & teen brain development.

Dr. Walsh is a leading authority on the impact of technology and media on children’s development. He is the founder of Mind Positive Parenting, the former National Institute on Media & the Family, and the author of 9 books including the national best-seller Why Do They Act That Way?.

The PCN forum will be held Tuesday, November 13 at 7:00 PM at Colonial Church, 6200 Colonial Way, Edina. Tickets are $15 in advance at or $20 at the door.