Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Doctor Is In -- Helping Our Kids Learn Good Habits

Not enough sleep, not enough breakfast. That's how our teen goes to school some days. I know better, but boy, is it tough to win kids over to the sensible side (of caring parents who can be a pain).

So I asked Dr. Jacquelyn Detweiler, a pediatrician who has a great way with teens, for her thoughts on issues related to teen health.

"Good health habits are exactly that, habits; these are often difficult to instill in a typically rebellious teen, who is in excellent health.

Most important: Sleep , sleep, sleep. I have not meet a high school student yet who gets enough. Their bodies are changing tremendously at this age. They have multiple stressors from varying from social pressures (do I have sex, should I try a cigarette, do I try marijuana, do I drink etc......), a large workload at school, hours of homework, with extracurriculars on top of that. Then we throw in being well-rounded and having to worry about college when you are barely through high school. Here's what teens should know:

1. The average teen needs 8-10 hours of sleep. Most get 6-8 hours or less. Reaction time (for driving and sports, for example) are all reduced on less sleep, as well as concentration and performance.

2. When you are stressed, the immune system is stressed, functions poorly, and kids are more likely to get sick. This in combination with the poor diet of the average teen increases the chances of a prolonged illness.

3. Eating a well balanced diet, getting plenty of rest, taking a multivitamin with Calcium and Vitamin D, all increase your ability to fight off illness."

Dr. Detweiler also told me about a common complaint/problem she often sees between September and December, especially in junior year.

"It's fatigue and malaise. When I take a good history I find that the teen is up at 6 a.m. for school, has an after-school activity, and then homework from evening until midnight. Once in awhile their bodies can tolerate this but not continuously on a daily basis." She points out that there could be medical disorders causing the fatigue, such as thyroid problems, anemia, vitamin deficiency, Lyme disease, mononucleosis and depression.

She adds that any of these conditions can become overwhelming and lead to a depressive mood -- with the condition occurring simultaneously with school-related exhaustion.

Our job: to do the best we can to demonstrate how necessary good health habits are (by our actions and maybe the occasional well-targeted emailed article to the target teen), to be on the lookout for health problems and to know when to give it a break.

Good luck to us all!

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