(BPT) - Parents of teenagers face a delicate balancing act between taking care of their teens and allowing them freedom to make their own decisions. Teens themselves seem to understand the importance of good health; in a survey by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) two out of three surveyed teens said they worry a lot or a great deal about staying healthy. However, when it comes to handling health issues, parents need to remain in the driver’s seat.
"Parents need to know that it's going to be okay," says internationally recognized author and parenting expert Dr. Michele Borba, Ed.D. "Even though the teen years are a difficult time, we can't let the kids take the lead, especially with their health. Now more than ever parents must be vigilant and involved. There are actually some simple ways to help guide them – and not try to control them."
While teens face many health-related issues, experts recommend that parents focus on three key teen health issues and consider some simple approaches to instill good habits solutions:
1. Oral Health
Parents and teens both know that brushing and flossing are essential for good oral health. But they may be unaware that crooked teeth (also called malocclusion), if left untreated, can lead to periodontal disease and premature wearing of the teeth. Crooked teeth can put abnormal stress on teeth and jaws and cause difficulty with effectively biting, chewing and speaking.
While straight, attractive teeth can certainly boost a teen’s mental health and self esteem, teeth straightening is clearly much more than just a cosmetic issue. It’s easier than ever to straighten teeth, with choices like Invisalign Teen (www.invisalign.com) that eliminate many of the negatives associated with traditional braces. Because the plastic, removable appliances are nearly invisible, teens no longer have to worry about having the conspicuous look of metal braces. Plus, removing the aligners allows wearers easier access to brushing and flossing, which reduces the risk of tooth decay.
As the mouth is truly the health gateway to the body, experts suggest a complete oral health routine including brushing, flossing and regular visits to the dentist and orthodontist.
Extreme stress isn’t good for anyone, and today’s teens have more on their plates than ever before – from academic and extracurricular commitments and college preparation to family obligations, friendships and even working outside the home. Doctors polled in the NFID study reported stress-related conditions were among the topics teens and parents were most likely to bring up at their annual checkups.
In addition to short-term physical symptoms like increased heart rate and breathing, headache, neck stiffness and pain, and stomach upset, stress can create long-term problems, too. Over time, stress can affect the immune system, heart, blood pressure, lungs, reproductive organs and stomach. In teens, it can make existing acne even worse.
One simple solution is more exercise. Getting off the couch or away from the computer screen and engaging in physical activity is a great stress buster. Exercise releases tension and excess energy, and provides physical and cosmetic benefits, too.
3. Diet and weight
More than a third of American children and teens are obese or overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health experts agree, however, that weight is only one reason to emphasize a healthy diet for teens. Good nutrition is just as important for teens as it is for young children, since teenagers' bodies go through stressful development and mentally they are creating eating habits that can follow them throughout life.
The single most important way parents can teach teens about health, diet and lifestyle habits is to model those habits themselves, experts agree. Involve teens in meal-planning and preparation, demonstrating good nutrition and healthful choices. Encourage physical activity by engaging the entire family in fun, healthful exercise such as cycling, hiking or playing sports together.
Just talking about weight, diet and appearance is not only not enough, it can actually be detrimental to teens’ health. A study by the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis found that when parents focus on weight, size and appearance when talking to teens, they may actually increase a teen’s risk of engaging in unhealthy weight-control measures – such as fad diets or binge eating.
Even though they’re approaching adulthood, teens still need parental guidance and support when it comes to health, but not interference. The NFID study found that 60 percent of teens could come up with at least one reason to ditch their annual checkup, with a third thinking they only need to see a doctor when sick. But of those who did get a checkup, 84 percent of doctors surveyed said exams went better when parents took a supportive stance outside the exam room.