Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

Teen Health

Guide to Teen Health

Raising a teen isn’t easy, and it’s not uncommon for parents to have a significant amount of questions about what they should be doing, and when they should be asking for help from an outsider.

With tiny babies, parents have control over almost everything that happens to that child. The foods the baby eats, the amount of time the baby sleeps and the experiences the child encounters during the course of a day are all under the direct control of watchful parents, and these parents can almost guarantee that their children flourish due to their hard work and supervisory skills. As these children age, however, parents might have much more to watch for and attend to, and it might be increasingly difficult to control the factors that lead to robust health. Parenting teens and ensuring their good health is particularly difficult, as these emerging adults demand freedom and privacy, and the choices they make are often far from ideal.

While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that 81.1 percent of those ages 12 to 17 are in very good or excellent health, that condition can be precarious in teens. These are just a few areas of teen health that merit close supervision from parents, and swift intervention if something goes wrong.

Getting Outside Help

While parents have a primary responsibility for keeping their children happy and healthy, doctors can also be valuable allies. Teens who feel uncomfortable with the idea of talking to a parent might willingly discuss sensitive issues with a doctor, as this person is a professional and legally obligated to keep issues both private and confidential. Teens should be encouraged to find a doctor with whom they feel comfortable, and they should visit that doctor at least yearly, according to the Nemour’s Foundation. During this visit, doctors might:

  • Test the child’s blood pressure
  • Give routine vaccinations
  • Test the child’s weight
  • Screen for tuberculosis
  • Test vision and hearing

Doctors might also spend time talking with their young patients, asking them about the physical ailments they’ve been facing, as well as the mental health symptoms they might be living with. Some teens might admit to sexual activity during a doctor’s visit, and they might be provided with information on sexually transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancy. Teens might also admit to symptoms of depression or anxiety, and that might trigger yet more visits to this doctor or to another specialist.

Parents might be tempted to go to these visits with their children, asking questions about symptoms they’ve seen and chiming in with their own opinions about the health and fitness of the child. While this might seem helpful, it can actually be harmful to a growing teen. Young people must learn how to handle a doctor’s appointment, and they should feel comfortable that the provider is working for their concerns, not the concerns of the parents. Giving the child a little elbowroom could allow parents to help their children to become good healthcare consumers in adulthood.

Special Considerations

There are some issues that develop during adolescence that are so serious and so troubling that parental involvement is a must. For example, some young people begin experimenting with drugs during their youth. This experimentation may begin at an incredibly early age, as the Treatment Episode Data Set suggests that 56.3 percent of teens entering treatment programs for addiction first began using drugs at ages 12 to 14. The adolescent brain is particularly susceptible to addiction, as drugs seem to interrupt the natural growth process and cause damage that can lead to a lack of impulse control. Teens who dabble might quickly escalate their use and become teens who cannot control their use at all. Teens with this sort of problem rarely “snap out of it” on their own, and they might not even realize that they have an addiction issue. Parents of teens like this might need to work with doctors to confirm the drug use, and they might need to work with specialized treatment providers in order to ensure that the child gets healthy and leaves an addiction behind. Teens may resent the intrusion, but they simply must get help in order to improve.

Similarly, some teens develop symptoms of mental illness. They might spend days on end crying and showing signs of depression, for example, or they might seem anxious and on edge much of the time, for no reason that a parent can discern.

Troubled teens might also begin to make choices parents would never approve of, including:

  • Harming others
  • Engaging in vandalism
  • Lying
  • Skipping school

Providing these teens with love and acceptance is vital, but they might also need the help of a licensed mental health counselor. Teens are still malleable and their behaviors can still be amended and adjusted, but they might need to work with counselors in order to make better choices and learn how to live with their tendencies in the future.

Parents of teens like this can, once again, head to the family doctor and ask for a series of tests for mental illness.

Sometimes, these tests can make a diagnosis clear and help parents understand what sort of help might be best for their child. Some parents also choose to enroll their children in specialized programs for mental health, even without a firm diagnosis, and they look for programs that provide testing as part of the enrollment process. This can allow parents to both spot a problem and get help for it, all at the same time.

Making a Choice

Working with the child’s doctor is one way to get answers. Pediatricians and other family doctors are adept at helping families during adolescence, and they are often willing to step in with valuable advice when things seem to be moving in the wrong direction. But if you know your child is facing difficulty, we’d like to help.

At Muir Wood, we provide a safe and nurturing environment for adolescent boys in crisis. We can assist boys with the emotional development they’ll need to undergo in order to move into adulthood, and we can provide the counseling assistance that can allow them to understand their prior choices. We can even assist with the recovery process, if your child is addicted to drugs. Please call us to find out more.

Further Reading

Muir Wood Adolescent and Family Services is a Joint Commission-accredited mental health and substance use disorder treatment provider located in Petaluma, California. We provide integrated evidence-based care including psychiatry, psychotherapy, experiential therapy, wellness services, and milieu therapy for adolescents and teens, and their family members.