My Kids Doc

A pediatrician’s guide to surviving the teenage years

From the time our babies are born, we are excited about watching them go through and master various stages of development. We watch them learn to walk, learn to feed themselves, learn to dress themselves, learn to read, ride a bike, and we jump up and down with excitement and beam with pride. We also know that not all of these tasks were mastered easily. There was a process that involved falling down, getting back up, bumps, bruises and feelings of frustration for both the child and parent. The teenage years are no different. They span a period of development during which your child is tasked with navigating the physical, intellectual, social, and emotional transition from childhood to adulthood. With so many developmental tasks to achieve, it’s no wonder that so many teens and parents have a difficult time navigating this stage of growth. Here are five survival tips to help you and your teen get to the other side of adolescence with your sanity intact.

Give them space

One of the major goals of the teenage years is achieving independence. To achieve this, teenagers begin to pull away from their parents and other family members and prefer to spend more time alone or with their friends. They use this time to figure out their own identity, and may begin to experiment with different clothing and hairstyles. They also become more vocal as they develop their own opinions on religion, politics, and various injustices in the world. Many times, their look of the week may not be your style and their current world view may be in direct contrast to that of your own. Unless they are doing or saying something that is harmful to them or someone else, resist the urge to impose your style or views on them. They are growing. Give them room to do so.

Pick your battles

Teens sometimes make decisions parents don’t like. That’s part of their job when it comes to achieving independence. Many parents have a difficult time relinquishing the control that comes with making every single decision for their child. As a result, a whole lot of headbutting ensues. To be fair, developmentally, teenagers aren’t always capable of the best judgement. So, if your child is making a decision that is putting their health and well-being at risk, by all means put your foot down, but if it’s a hairstyle you don’t like, just let it go. Being constantly critical of decisions they make for themselves undermines the confidence they will need as adults and only promotes rebellion.

Set boundaries and expectations

All teens need freedom, but be clear about the limits to that freedom. Do they want to hang out with their friends? Fine, but be upfront about what activities and behavior are off limits. Do they want to spend time on social media? Sure, but set clear rules about the amount of time they are allowed, and educate them on safe and responsible social media use. Teens need to know that their parents care enough about them to have certain expectations such as good grades, acceptable behavior, and doing their share of house chores. If parents have appropriate expectations, teens will likely try to meet them.

Look out for signs of trouble

A certain amount of change is normal during the teen years. But too drastic or long-lasting a change in personality or behavior may signal real trouble — the kind that needs professional help. You may expect a glitch or two in your teen’s behavior or grades during this time, but your A/B student shouldn’t suddenly be failing, and your normally outgoing kid shouldn’t suddenly become constantly withdrawn.

Watch for these warning signs:

• Extreme weight gain or loss.

• Sleep problems.

• Rapid, drastic changes in personality.

• Sudden change in friends.

• Skipping school often.

• Failing grades.

• Talk or even jokes about suicide.

• Signs of tobacco, alcohol, or drug use.

• Run-ins with the law.

Keep up their annual visits with their pediatrician

Many parents feel that since all childhood immunizations are essentially complete, there’s no need for their teenager to see their pediatrician annually. Nothing could be further from the truth. Teen health visits are very important for monitoring your child’s continued growth and development. These visits provide a safe space for teens to bring up health concerns they may not necessarily feel comfortable discussing with their parents. It allows the pediatrician to pick up warning signs that parents may miss and provides an opportunity to offer guidance on everything from nutrition to sexual health.

The teenage years can be a challenging time for families, but just like any other developmental stage your child goes through, it requires your patience and support in order for your child to get through it successfully. Remember that your pediatrician is a valuable resource in helping you raise happy and healthy kids (and teenagers)!

• Dr. Tamarra Moss is a pediatrician committed to helping you raise happy and healthy kids. You can find her at Dr. Carlos Thomas & Pediatric Associates in Nassau, Lucayan Medical Center in Grand Bahama, or on Instagram @mykidsdoc242.

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