Helping to prepare your teen for life after high school is one of the most important jobs you’ll have as a parent. Although it’s hard to imagine your baby as an adult, helping your teen successfully navigate the transition from childhood into independent adulthood is absolutely vital.
Whether your teenager is heading off to college or technical school, entering the work force or joining the military, graduating from high school is a big change, often including living on their own for the first time.
Whatever this next stage in your young adult’s life brings, he/she will soon be making their own decisions about the direction their life will take. This also includes decisions that affect their health, which is where we come in. Here at Westchester Health Pediatrics, we’d like to offer your teenager some suggestions for staying healthy, physically and mentally, no matter what lies ahead for them.
8 things to keep in mind as your teenager moves on and moves out
- Make sure he/she gets enough rest (8-9 hours of sleep a night whenever possible). Too little sleep can contribute to a number of health problems, including colds, the flu, stress, depression, weight gain, weight loss, anxiety and loss of concentration (which can negatively affect their schoolwork/exams or their job performance).
- Eat well. Fast food or junk food may be quick and cheap when your teen is in a rush, but eating well is important. Encourage him/her to eat fruits and vegetables every day, as well as foods high in protein and calcium. Limit junk food and foods with a lot of fat, sugar and salt, as well as sugary drinks such as soda and certain sport drinks.
- An important part of staying healthy is getting enough exercise. Your teen should make time each day, or at least several times a week, to fit exercise into their schedule.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol. Alcohol and drug abuse is a leading cause of teen injury and/or death. It also increases the risk of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS, due to unprotected sex. Research has shown that when someone abuses alcohol and drugs as a teen, they are much more likely to have future alcohol and drug problems. (To know more, read the Alcohol and Drug Abuse page on our website.)
- Sexual health, safe sex, birth control, gender identification, STDs and avoiding date rape. Before your teen starts having sex, or even if they’re already sexually active, there are a lot of things he/she needs to know and precautions to take that can have a big effect on their health. One study has found that up to 10% of female students have been date raped while attending college, often in conjuncture with alcohol or drug usage at a social function. (Read more on the Sexual Health page on our website.)
- When to leave your teen’s pediatrician and start seeing an adult doctor. Many young adults see their pediatrician until they turn 21, while others choose to switch to an adult health provider much earlier. Whichever path your teenager chooses, we’re ready to offer advice and guidance and to help smooth the transition.
- Your teen should know where to go if he/she is having a health problem. Whether your teen is off at college or in his/her own living space, it’s important that they know what to do and where to go if they get sick or injured, as well as for health-related advice, information and counseling. What student health service, hospital or clinic is close by? Where should he/she go in an emergency? You might want to give them directions and map out distances ahead of time.
- Make sure your teen is familiar with your health insurance. He/she should have their own i.d. card from your health plan. Alternatively, if he/she wants to get their own insurance, make sure they know how to do that.
Healthcare pointers for those going off to college
- Make sure your teen is up-to-date on all recommended vaccines, including those for tetanus, meningococcal disease, HPV, pertussis and flu. In addition, there is a new meningitis b vaccine that should be discussed with your pediatrician, consisting of 2 doses at least 1 month apart. Even if they’ve had these shots before, they may need another dose or a booster shot.
- If your teen has a medical condition or health issue: When going to a new doctor or clinic, such as the campus health center, your teen will need to provide information about his/her condition and how to manage it. Make sure he/she has all of this information in an easy-to-find place so it can be easily shown to medical personnel.
- If your teen takes medication to treat a physical or mental health condition: Make sure he/she knows the name of the medication, how is it taken, any side effects, and if they cannot have certain food or drink while taking it. He/she should also know how and where to go to refill prescriptions.
- Know how to find a specialist, if needed. The health professionals in student health services usually know other physicians in the area to recommend to your teen in case he/she needs specialized medical care.
- Sit down with your teen and explain that the costs associated with a college education are extremely high. While there will be plenty of free time to socialize and have fun, he/she is at college primarily to be a student and learn. As such, they need to attend classes, do the homework and assignments related to their class work and not wait until the last minute to complete papers or study for an exam.
It’s your teen’s life but you can still help with setting goals
When trying to help your teen set goals for the future, he/she may be receptive to your ideas or may tell you to bug off. Here are our suggestions for keeping the lines of communication open:
- Really listen to your teen and resist the temptation to provide unsolicited advice. If he/she is struggling to make a decision, perhaps relay a story from your own life about a tough choice you had to make.
- Provide respect and support while giving up some control. Trying to direct your teen’s future probably won’t benefit him/her in the long run. This is the time for teens to develop their own decision-making and problem-solving skills, attributes they will need out in the real world for the rest of their lives.
- Prepare your teen to be self-sufficient away from home. This includes making major life-affecting decisions regarding dating, drugs, alcohol and sex, as well as mastering day-to-day living skills such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, paying bills, managing a budget and last but not least, getting enough sleep.
- Don’t be afraid to set limits on how much you can financially support a teen who decides to take time off. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a break after many years of school but that doesn’t mean your son or daughter should expect you to pay for their upkeep.
- Finally, resist the temptation to lecture. Try to remain supportive, even if your teen keeps changing his or her mind. More than anything, he/she needs your positive influence and understanding during this transitional time.
We’re still available to treat your teen after high school
Even after your teenager goes off to college or starts working, we still care a great deal about their health. Please encourage him/her to contact us any time they have questions or concerns, want information or just want to talk. If they live nearby, they can continue to be treated by Westchester Health Pediatrics if they would like. He/she may even want to come in and get a physical before they report to college or start a new job. Whenever, wherever they need us, we’re here for them.