If you are the parent of an older child or teen, you may not think about his or her day-to-day medical needs as often as you did during early childhood. But older kids are also dependent on you, especially when it comes to emotional health and wellness.
“Life transitions, romantic situations, stress and exposure to drugs and alcohol are just a few of the challenges facing teens and young adults,” said James Perrin, MD, FAAP, 2014 President of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). “As a parent, you can help ease these transitions and encourage positive choices.”
The AAP offers these tips for parents to foster good mental health:
• At each new stage in your child’s life, be extra vigilant for signs that he or she needs extra support. Be ready to provide it.
• Keep the lines of communication open. If your child is away at college or has moved out, speak regularly by phone. Children should know that they can talk to you about anything. Be committed to broaching tough topics. Talk about your own experiences and fears when you were an adolescent.
• If your teen has a mental health diagnosis, he or she will need extra support. Pediatricians, school counselors and mental health professionals are important resources.
• Watch for mental health red flags, such as excessive sleeping, personality shifts, excessive moodiness, noticeable weight loss or gain, excessive secrecy or signs of self-harm.
• Don’t skip the annual physical. Not only are teens still on a vaccination schedule, but check-ups are a crucial opportunity to talk to your pediatrician about any concerns, as well as diagnose any potential physical and mental health issues.
• Safeguard your home against prescription drug abuse by keeping your own medications locked. According to the AAP, prescription drug misuse is second only to marijuana and alcohol misuse by adolescents. The most commonly abused prescription drugs include Vicodin and Xanax.
• Provide logistical support for young adults like completing health forms and physicals for college; setting up accommodations at school if they have a mental health diagnosis; finding physicians to care for their adult needs; and signing up for health insurance. Your pediatrician’s office can help.
• Help limit teens’ stress. Don’t encourage them to take on excessive time-consuming extracurricular activities. Avoid comparing your children to siblings or friends. Every child has his or her own strengths.
• Encourage habits that reduce stress and promote physical and mental health, such as a well-balanced diet, getting at least seven hours of sleep a night and regular exercise.
This post is also available in: Chinese