Adolescent health... What to look for?

Hello readers.

You need that trigger to start working on something, that’s what happened with me.

I was being lazy to write a blog these days but a workshop at two places made me realize, need to focus on this issue.

Most of the mothers of teenagers including girls and boys are concerned about

“how to indulge a health-conscious behavior in them”.

Because to an adolescent, nothing in the world is more embarrassing than a parent. So let's try to understand what are changes and risks during adolescence.

The World Health Organization defines adolescents as those people between 10 and 19 years of age.

Adolescence is one of the most rapid and formative phases of human development, and the distinctive physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and sexual development that takes place during adolescence demands special attention. Adolescence is one of life’s fascinating and perhaps most complex stages, a time when young people take on new responsibilities and experiment with independence. Many biological changes take place during the adolescent years. Physical changes such as an increase in height, weight, body proportions, and the development of secondary sexual characteristics are common. Along with these physical changes wide spectrum of endocrine changes, including hormones that affect gonadal maturation takes place. Traditionally, adolescence has been thought of as a period of “storm and stress” -a time of heightened emotional tension resulting from the physical and glandular changes that are taking place. As they grow older, they learn to handle them.

One of the most difficult developmental tasks of adolescence is a social adjustment. These adjustments must be made with the members of the opposite sex in a relationship that never existed before and to adults outside the family and school environment. The adolescent learns to make many new adjustments, most important of which are those of the increased influence of the peer group, changes in social behavior, new social groupings, new values in friendship selection, new values in social acceptance, and rejection. They also seek greater independence and responsibility at this stage. They increasingly want to assert more autonomy over their decisions, emotions, and actions, and to disengage from parental control. Their social and cultural environment significantly affects how adolescents express this desire for autonomy.

Due to these changes, adolescents need close supervision, support from teachers, parents, and other important persons. If the above issues are not addressed, then this would lead to various problems among adolescents and they might affect the healthy transition of the adolescents to adulthood.

Among all this chaos responsibility lies on parents, teachers, and other important members of the family to guide them and provide well-informed choices.

I will be discussing more about health issues in adolescence. The health status of a teenager determines the health status in his/her adulthood. Many serious diseases in adulthood have their roots in adolescence. The main health issues faced by adolescents include mental health problems, early pregnancy and childbirth, HIV/sexually transmitted infection (STI) and other infectious diseases, violence, unintentional injuries, malnutrition, and substance abuse.

Nutritional health

Adolescents have increased nutritional requirements demanding a diet rich in protein, vitamins, calcium, iodine, phosphorus, and iron due to rapid growth spurt and increased physical activity. The use of mass media is higher among adolescents. It plays an important role in habit picking and decides their lifestyle pattern. Television viewing in childhood and adolescence is associated with overweight, poor fitness, smoking, and raised cholesterol in adulthood. Junk and unhealthy food reduced physical activity result in obesity which has adverse implications in the future.

Reproductive health

As we see in younger generations there is an increasing trend of starting sexual activity at an earlier age. So education about safe practices is of utmost importance. American society of pediatrics advises consultation with a gynecologist at an age group of 11-13 years. The girls in this age group need education about how their body is changing, what all hormonal changes to expect. The issues to be looked upon are

1. Polycystic ovarian syndrome(PCOS)

Irregular monthly periods, obesity, acne, hair loss are among the common symptoms of PCOS. Complications in a future life with PCOS may be Infertility, type II diabetes, endometrial cancer. Infertility can be a very bothersome condition for a girl’s reproductive career. Working on obesity through lifestyle modifications, exercise can help us to prevent these future health problems.

2. Sexually transmitted infections(STI)

Due to early sexual activity, multiple sexual partners, the incidence of STIs increases. STIs include chlamydia, herpes, fungal infections. This may lead to a pelvic inflammatory disease which may be the reason for infertility in later life. The chances of cervical cancer are also increased.

3. Pregnancy and contraception

I see many teenagers coming with a positive pregnancy test and asking for miscarriage. Most of them think of the “I pill” as an abortion pill. That's not true, I pill is emergency contraception that protects from getting pregnant for that sexual activity only. There are still chances of having pregnancy if intercourse happens after the use of emergency contraception. ( refer to my blog on emergency contraception). Frequent use of the I pill disturbs the balance between natural hormones during menses. It can lead to menstrual irregularity. Increased number of miscarriages also has harmful effects on uterine lining and functioning. This again may lead to infertility in the future.

Providing correct information on the use of contraceptives, their side effects, warning symptoms can allow our girls to make responsible decisions.

4. Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE)

is a curriculum-based process of teaching and learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical, and social aspects of sexuality. It aims to equip children and adolescents with knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values that will empower them to realize their health, well-being, and dignity; develop respectful social and sexual relationships; consider how their choices affect their well-being and that of others, and understand and ensure the protection of their rights throughout their lives.

I have seen the fear and anxiety parents have, about talking on this subject to their kids. Even teaching in school on this topic is unacceptable for some of them.

Research has shown that curriculum-based CSE programs can contribute to delayed initiation of sexual intercourse, decreased frequency of sexual intercourse, decreased number of sexual partners, reduced risk-taking, increased use of condoms, and increased use of contraception. There is no evidence that CSE increases sexual activity, sexual risk-taking behavior, or rates of HIV or other STI.

5. Substance abuse

Smoking, alcohol, and the use of recreational drugs have become a status symbol in the new generation. Smoking is equally hazardous for the egg as well as sperm health. In a pregnant female cigarette smoking or alcohol consumption may lead to abnormalities in a baby.

6. Mental health

Nowadays we are getting more and more aware of psychological health. Most of the issues with psychological health in later life have their roots in childhood and adolescence. Giving equal attention to this aspect is also very important. Suicide, injuries, violence are the problems encountered with disturbed mental health.

Internet use

The Internet has developed dramatically and its use has spread to all the fields and age groups. Adolescents are not exceptional from the use of the Internet. The rapid growth of Internet communication and its potential to change the way one could communicate and gather information has brought both positive and negative impacts. So the positive impact of internet uses involve any information reaching very fast to any part of the world; individuals from worldwide could communicate without distinctions of nationality, race, gender, class; the variety of information is available on the internet helps other fields’ research effectively. On the negative side, one can access all kinds of information including self-distraction, faulty socialization, risk-taking behaviors, loneliness, etc.

Risks on the Internet have been defined as “one goes beyond the normal use of the Internet and takes a risk which may threaten one’s personal growth, safety, and interpersonal relationships.”

There is no doubt that the growing popularity of Internet communication applications among adolescents has become an important social context for their development. Though enormous information is available on the Internet, the misuse of this is becoming more evident among adolescents. Studies report that adolescents access pornography, hate, and terrorism-related sites, and they are vulnerable to sexual solicitation and predation, cyber-bullying, and harassment.

After knowing all these, as a parent, I become more aware of the interaction I should have with my teenager. I read somewhere a long time back that “The best way to make your child read books is to start reading yourself first”.

To summarize, providing a comprehensive education regarding all aspects of adolescent health will help the younger generation to make well-informed and responsible decisions.


Thanking you

All suggestions and comments are welcome.

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