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Teen and Young Adult Health

Mood swings. Peer pressure. Body image issues. Your teen faces a lot of challenges. And as a parent, you face them too. Help your teen make smart, healthy decisions.


Depression and anxiety

While most teenagers manage to cope with their growing pains, some have a harder time. And sometimes this can lead to depression.

It's important to recognize the early warning signs and symptoms of depression, which may include:

  • Refusal to go to school, frequent absences, bad grades or reduced interest in school activities
  • Changes or difficulty in relationships with friends and family
  • Social isolation
  • A negative attitude, irritability or anger
  • Overt behavior problems, such as aggression or fighting
  • Sexual activity or use of alcohol or drugs

If you suspect your child is suffering from depression, consider seeking help from a doctor or counselor right away. Talk with them about different treatment options for your teen. And remember to keep the lines of communication open. Encourage your child to express worries and concerns often, and be available to talk.

Driving safety

Traffic crashes are the leading cause of teen deaths in America. Make sure you talk to your teen about the importance of safe driving. Consider establishing some guidelines for your kids to follow when they're behind the wheel.

Consider the following safe driving tips for teens:

  • Keep passengers to a minimum. The more friends your teen is driving around, the more likely they'll distract your young driver.
  • No teen passengers at night. The chances your teen will get into an accident increases with each additional teen passenger. Plus, teen crash rates spike at night.
  • No driving when tired or fatigued. If your teen works or is out late, offer to pick them up instead. Lack of sleep can affect their driving skills.
  • Require seat belts. Wearing a seat belt is not only an important safety precaution, it's also the law in most states.
  • No texting or talking on the phone. Better yet, just tell your teens (and their friends) to turn off their cell phones in the car. If they need to make a call, ask them to pull over and park in a safe place.
  • Let your teen be your chauffeur. The best way to ensure safe driving is to observe and correct bad habits.

To make sure your teen follows these guidelines and more, consider signing a parent-teen driving agreement. Check with your car insurance company or a driving club for a free downloadable contract.

Sexuality, drugs and alcohol

These are important subjects to talk to your teen about, especially if you suspect he or she is involved in risky behavior. That said, it's not an easy thing to do.

If you're having trouble getting the conversation started, consider the following:

  • Be direct and honest. Let your teen know where you stand. Also, make sure he or she knows the realities, responsibilities and consequences that come with sexual activity or drug and alcohol use.
  • Don't shy away. If a movie or a TV show refers to sex, drugs or alcohol, don't change the subject. Use it as a starting point to talk with your teen.
  • Ask about their friends. Learn what sorts of behaviors their friends are up to. Help your kids figure out ways to handle peer pressure appropriately.
  • Don't get angry. If your child does something you disagree with, it's easy to get upset. Instead, try to outline your concern in a calm, rational manner.
  • Avoid getting defensive. Your teen may blame you for his or her behavioral choices. Don't take it personally – it's just a way for your teen to vent frustration.
  • Criticize the behavior, not the person. If your teen (or a friend) behaves inappropriately, make it clear that it's the activity – and not him or her personally – that you disapprove of.

Above all, keep the lines of communication open. If you make them common topics in your house, your teen is more likely to talk to you about the pressures they face with sex, drugs and alcohol.

Dating/relationship abuse

Recent survey data commissioned by Liz Claiborne Inc. indicates that teen dating violence and abuse occurs at disturbingly high rates:

  • Nearly 1 in 3 teens in a dating relationship have experienced sexual abuse, physical abuse, or threats of physical harm.
  • The availability and use of technology has increased the prevalence of this growing problem. Almost three out of four teens (71%) regard boyfriends/girlfriends spreading rumors about them on cell phones and social networking sites as a serious problem.
  • Though 82% of parents feel confident that they could recognize the signs if their child was experiencing dating abuse, a majority of parents (58%) could not correctly identify all the warning signs of abuse.

Over the past 20 years, Liz Claiborne Inc. has strived to address relationship violence in its many forms, presently concentrating on teens and their dating relationships. In 2008 the company launched the Love Is Not Abuse Coalition, a committed group of parents, teachers and concerned citizens who promote and encourage dating abuse education in schools. The Coalition was inspired by dedicated and courageous parents whose children were victims of dating abuse, and who want to ensure that no one else's child becomes a victim.

Dating abuse can be hard to identify. Dr. Elizabeth Miller, MD, PhD, Chief of Adolescent Medicine, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, says to be on the lookout for these signs that your teen/young adult may be in an abusive relationship:

  • Loses interest in activities that he/she used to enjoy
  • Stops seeing friends and family members and becomes more and more isolated
  • Casually mentions their boyfriend or girlfriend's violent behavior, but laughs it off as a joke
  • No longer hangs out with his/her circle of friends
  • Wears the same clothing
  • Is distracted when spoken to
  • Constantly checks his/her cell phone and gets inordinately upset when asked to turn the phone off
  • Is angry or irritable when asked how they are doing
  • Makes excuses for their boyfriend/girlfriend
  • Showers immediately after getting home
  • Has unexplained scratches or bruises

To further understand the issue of dating abuse, how to talk to your teen about this issue before it is a problem and where to go for help if your teen is in trouble, visit LoveIsNotAbuse.comOpens a new window.

College health

When your teen leaves for college, he or she will typically have to adjust to new friends, a new environment and new pressures. Make sure you keep your lines of communication open.

Consider talking to your teen about these tips for staying healthy in college.

  • Get plenty of sleep. Busy college students tend to put sleep low on their priority list. But rest will help your teen concentrate and do well in school.
  • Eat healthy food on a regular schedule. Skipping meals, eating late and eating junk food contribute to weight gain and improper nutrition.
  • Drink lots of water. It will keep your college kid hydrated. Plus, if they drink water instead of sweet beverages, it'll help keep them slim and trim.
  • Don't binge drink. Excessive drinking at college parties is dangerous to your teen's health and safety.
  • Walk or bike to class. It might be hard to fit in a regular exercise routine, so walking or biking around campus is a great way to stay fit.
  • Get a flu shot. Many colleges offer free or discounted flu shots.
  • Release stress. Encourage your teen to set aside time to relax, especially during stressful finals week.
  • Tend to mental health. Help your teen seek help from campus counseling services. Many college students suffer from depression, eating disorders, addiction or homesickness.
  • Practice safe sex. If your teen is sexually active, remind them to use a condom every time. Talk to your teen about the potential physical and emotional dangers of casual sex.

Screenings and immunizations

Keeping your child healthy is a top priority. Regular preventive care allows your doctor to prevent and detect disease, if it occurs, so treatment has the best chance of success. Use UnitedHealthcare's online toolOpens a new window to get recommended immunization and screening schedules for each member of your family. Talk to your doctor about your specific questions and concerns regarding your child's health, and use these guidelines, along with the advice of your doctor, to help your child stay healthy.

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