Teen Wellness Overview
It is important to begin to shoulder more responsibility, but is also an important time for increased independence as well as social and emotional growth. Wellstar pediatricians can help parents and teenagers learn what to expect and how to navigate this exciting and sometimes challenging phase.
Teen Development Overview
- Early adolescence, generally ages 11 and 13
- Middle adolescence, ages 14 to 16
- Late adolescence, ages 17 to 21
In addition to physiological growth, teens are developing intellectually, psychologically and socially. These years of change and growth are fundamental to form one’s own identity and to prepare for adulthood.
Puberty is defined as the biological changes of adolescence. By mid-adolescence, if not sooner, most youngsters’ physiological growth is well under way. They are close to their adult height and weight, and are now physically capable of reproduction.
Teens rarely set their sights beyond the present, which explains younger teens’ inability to consider the long-term consequences of their actions.
By late adolescence, a teenager’s ability to project into the future, solve complex problems and to sense what others are thinking has sharpened considerably. But, because of inexperience, even older teens apply these newfound skills erratically and may act without thinking.
Teenagers’ emotional development means they must start asserting their independence, and distance themselves from Mom and Dad. Autonomy can take myriad forms: less overt affection, more time spent with friends, contentious behavior, pushing the limits.
Talking About Sex
A high percentage of teens engage in some form of sexual activity, may be participating in unprotected sex, exposing themselves to potentially grave disease and unwanted pregnancy.
Sharing factual information with and giving good moral guidance to your teenager is a vitally important part of helping your teen understand herself or himself. It can help your child avoid devastating, and possibly life-threatening, errors in judgment.
Advice for parents
- The most important thing to teach your child is responsibility.
- Keep an open channel of communication in dealing with questions about sexuality and sexual health.
- Set aside your own agenda of “don’t do this and don’t do that” and take a step back to discuss what is important to your teen.
- Keep reminding your teen that you are in their corner every step of the way.
By engaging your teen and building self-esteem and confidence in their ability to make judgments, you’re showing that you respect what they're learning and how they're growing in their decision-making.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that young people, between 11 to 21, be seen annually by their pediatricians.
It could include a physical examination, screening for vision and hearing and laboratory tests (such as blood work or a urinalysis). The pediatrician will decide what needs to be done at each annual visit depending on what has been happening in your teen’s life and what tests have been done in the past.
The pediatrician will take the time to speak with your teen alone. This is an important part of establishing a trusting relationship, where potential risk factors such as loneliness or poor choices may often be identified.
After the pediatrician has reviewed your teenager’s medical history, a full-screening physical examination will most likely include the following:
- Height and weight measurement
- Blood pressure and pulse
- Discussion of important health and safety issues such as sexuality and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, the dangers of experimenting with alcohol and other drugs, dietary and exercise habits, and driving safety. A vision test might also be included.
- Feeling the neck for swollen lymph nodes or an enlarged thyroid gland.
- Feeling the abdomen to feel for any problems with the spleen, liver and kidneys.
- Placing a stethoscope to your teen's chest and back, an assessment of respiration and checking for any abnormal sounds from the heart.
- Checking for abnormality of the spine, (including scoliosis) which may warrant X-rays. Adolescents are prime candidates for developing progressive curvature of the spine, such as scoliosis.
- Testing joint flexibility and muscle strength
- Palpitation of the breasts (both girls and boys)
- The pediatrician may conduct a full-body skin inspection, checking for acne and suspicious moles.
- Pediatricians often inspect the genitals last, knowing that this is the part of the exam that many teenagers, self-conscious about their bodies, dread the most.
Immunizations and Laboratory Screening Tests
One in five adolescents and young adults are not adequately immunized against preventable diseases such as measles and mumps. If you don’t have a pediatrician, call your local health department. Public health clinics may provide immunizations at reduced cost. There are important immunizations that need to be updated or initiated including (but not limited to) boosters against Tetanus, Pertussis, and Meningococcal Meningitis.
In examining the breast, the pediatrician looks for lumps and other abnormalities, such as signs of infection. The pediatrician also uses this opportunity to instruct the patient how to examine her own breasts. Periodic breast self-exam (BSE) is often recommended for young women.
This is not part of the routine pediatric exam, but may be necessary depending on factors identified in the history.
As part of a teenage boy’s annual physical, the pediatrician can examine the teen’s testicles for cancer and for hernia, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. In a hernia, part of the intestine protrudes downward until eventually it descends into the scrotum. Some hernias cause a bulge that the doctor can feel. The condition is corrected with surgery.
As the physician palpates each testicle for possible tumors, he typically will explain to his patient the importance of practicing testicular self-examination (TSE) on a monthly basis. Testicular cancer, while rare in teenagers (approximately thirty cases a year), is the leading malignancy among young males aged fifteen to thirty-nine. It is also one of the most curable of all cancers.
Preparing your teen before the checkup is important—emphasize the importance of being proactive in looking after our health. This is a step towards responsible behavior and sets a good pattern for adulthood.