Dealing with the Adolescence Years

Communication is the single most important aspect when parenting a teenager. Parents can give their teens a sense of compassion, understanding, and support. Parents can listen to their opinions and peacefully discuss a situation. As to the popular saying, "Learn to pick your battles, and pick them wisely. "The adolescence stage is associated with notable changes in mood sometimes known as mood swings. Cognitive, emotional, and attitudinal changes often take place during this period, and this can be a cause both of conflict and positive personality development.

Because the adolescents are experiencing various strong cognitive and physical changes, for the first time in their lives they may start to view their friends, their peer group, as more important and influential than their parents or guardians. Because of peer pressure, they may sometimes indulge in activities not deemed socially acceptable, although this may be more of a social phenomenon than a psychological one.

Family and home environment are important aspects of and have substantial impact on adolescent development. For example, abusive parents may lead a child to "poke fun" at other classmates when he/she is seven years-old, but during adolescence, it may become progressively worse. For example, the child may now be using drugs or becoming intolerably violent towards other classmates. If the concept and theory of right and wrong is not established early on in a child's life, the lack of this knowledge may impair a teenager's ability to make beneficial decisions as well as allowing his/her impulses to control his/her decisions. Struggles with adolescent identity and depression usually set in when an adolescent experiences a loss. The most important loss in their lives is the changing relationship between the adolescent and their parents. Teen depression can be extremely intense at times because of physical and hormonal changes but emotional instability is part of being a teenager. Their changing mind, body, and relationships often present themselves as stressful and that change, they assume, is something to be feared.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) suggests the following ways for parents to prepare for their child's teenage years:

  • Provide a safe and loving home environment.
  • Create an atmosphere of honesty, trust, and respect.
  • Allow age-appropriate independence and assertiveness.
  • Develop a relationship that encourages your teen to talk to you when he or she is upset.
  • Teach responsibility for your teen's belongings and yours.
  • Teach basic responsibility for household chores.
  • Teach the importance of accepting limits.

Does My Child Have Low Self-Esteem?

To help you determine if your child has low self-esteem, watch for the following signals. They could be everyday responses to how your child relates to the world around him/her, or they might occur only occasionally in specific situations. When they become a repeated pattern of behavior, you need to become sensitive to the existence of a problem.

  • Your child avoids a task or challenge without even trying. This often signals a fear of failure or a sense of helplessness.
  • He/She quits soon after beginning a game or a task, giving up at the first sign of frustration.
  • He/She cheats or lies when he believes he's going to lose a game or do poorly.
  • He/She shows signs of regression, acting babylike or very silly. These types of behavior invite teasing and name-calling from other youngsters, thus adding insult to injury.
  • He/She becomes controlling, bossy, or inflexible as ways of hiding feelings of inadequacy, frustration, or powerlessness.
  • He/She makes excuses (i.e., "The teacher is dumb.") or downplays the importance of events (i.e., "I don't really like that game anyway."), uses this kind of rationalizing to place blame on others or external forces.
  • His/Her grades in school have declined, usually without explanation, or he has lost interest in usual activities.
  • He/She withdraws socially, losing or having less contact with friends.
  • He/She experiences changing moods, exhibiting sadness, crying, angry outbursts, frustration, or quietness.
  • He/She makes self-critical comments, such as "I never do anything right," "Nobody likes me," "I'm ugly," "It's my fault," or "Everyone is smarter than I am."
  • He/She has difficulty accepting either praise or criticism.
  • He/She becomes overly concerned or sensitive about other people's opinions of him.
  • He/She seems to be strongly affected by negative peer influence, adopting attitudes and behaviors like a disdain for school, cutting classes, acting disrespectfully, shoplifting, or experimenting with tobacco, alcohol, or drugs.
  • He/She is either overly helpful or never helpful at home.

If your child exerts any of these signs and symptoms, please discuss them with your physician. It is also helpful to get feedbacks from your child's teachers regarding the behavioral changes. Source: Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12 (Copyright © 2003 American Academy of Pediatrics)

Learning About Eating Disorders

Weight obsession affects millions of teenagers today, especially girls. One out of every seven women has or is struggling with an eating disorder at any given time. While more than 90% of those with an eating disorder are girls, teenage boys also have body image concerns. Many boys strive for the perfect body by dieting or compulsive exercise.

What Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, are psychological disorders that involve extreme disturbances in eating behavior. A teen with anorexia refuses to maintain a normal body weight. Someone with bulimia has repeated episodes of binge eating followed by compulsive behaviors such as vomiting or the use of laxatives to remove the food.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, as many as 1 in every 100 females has anorexia nervosa. Teens with anorexia fear gaining weight and are at least 15% below their ideal body weights. They believe the main gauge of self-worth is their body image.

Experts believe many American girls are bulimic and have kept the problem a secret. Bulimia often starts in the late teens and early adulthood. People with bulimia go through cycles of eating enormous amounts of foods followed by purging (by vomiting, laxative use, diuretics, or hours of aerobic exercise).

 ---- Source: WebMD Medical Reference 

What is anorexia?

People with anorexia have a distorted image of their bodies and such an intense fear of becoming fat that they hardly eat and become dangerously thin. Many people with anorexia also vomit and over exercise, and they may abuse diet pills to keep from gaining weight. If the condition gets worse, they can die from suicide, heart problems, or starving to death.

People with anorexia focus all of their energy on staying thin. Much of their time is spent thinking about food. For example, people with anorexia may

  • Eat only a small number of "safe" foods, usually those low in calories and fat.
  • Cut up food into tiny pieces.
  • Spend more time playing with food than eating it.
  • Cook food for others but not eat it.
  • Exercise compulsively.
  • Wear baggy clothes to hide their bodies, or complain that normal clothes are too tight.
  • Spend more time alone and isolated from friends and family.
  • Become more withdrawn and secretive.
  • Seem depressed or anxious.
  • Have a decrease in activities, motivation, or energy level.
  • Do things to keep their minds off their hunger, such as chewing food 30 times before swallowing.

Effects of anorexia

Over time, anorexia can lead to kidney and liver damage, bone damage, and heart problems. When the body is starved of food, many physical changes occur like

  • The constant feeling of being cold because the body has lost the fat and muscle it needs to keep warm. (People with anorexia may exercise even more to try to get warm).
  • Dizziness, fainting, or near-fainting.
  • Bones sticking out and skin shrinking around the bones. The stomach may look like it's sticking out (often causing anorexics to think they're still fat).
  • Hair loss.
  • Brittle hair and fingernails.
  • Dry and rough skin.
  • Menstrual periods stopping (or not starting at all if a girl developed anorexia before her first period). This condition is called amenorrhea.
  • Stomach pain, constipation, and bloating.
  • Stunted growth that could be permanent.
  • Anemia (low red blood cells) causing tiredness, weakness, and dizziness.
  • Loss of sexual function in boys.

Treatment

The earlier an eating disorder is recognized, the higher the chances are of treatment working. Treatment depends on many things, including the person's willingness to make changes, family support, and the stage of the eating disorder.

Successful treatment of eating disorders involves a team approach. The team includes many health care professionals working together, each treating a certain aspect of the disorder. Treatment should begin with a visit to a pediatrician to see how the eating disorder has affected the body. If the effects are severe, the person may need medical treatment or even need to be hospitalized.

In treating anorexia, increasing the person's weight is crucial. If this person refuses to eat, hospitalization may be needed so that adequate nutrition can be ensured.

Counseling is an important part of treatment. Counseling helps people with eating disorders understand how they use food as a way to deal with problems and feelings. It helps them improve their self-images and develop the confidence to take control of their lives. Family therapy usually is needed to help family members understand the problem, how to be encouraging and supportive, and how to help manage the symptoms. Nutrition counseling with a registered dietitian also is recommended to assist patients and families in returning to healthy eating habits.

Living with an eating disorder is very hard on teens and their families! The wear and tear on the body is tremendous. Without help, a person with an eating disorder can have serious health problems, become very sick, and even die. However, with treatment, a person can get well and go on to lead a healthy life.

What is bulimia?

Bulimia is an eating disorder that is harmful to a person's physical and mental health. People with bulimia eat large amounts of food in a short time (binge). Guilt and fear then cause them to get rid of the food (purge) by vomiting or other means such as over exercising.

People with bulimia have a difficult time controlling their eating behavior. They may be afraid to eat in public or with other people because they are afraid they won't be able to control their urges to binge and purge. Their fear may cause them to avoid being around people. They also may

  • Become very secretive about eating food.
  • Spend a lot of time thinking about and planning the next binge, set aside certain times to binge and purge, or avoid social activities to binge and purge.
  • Steal food or hide it in strange places, like under the bed or in closets.
  • Binge on foods with distinct colors to know when the food is later thrown up.
  • Exercise to "purge" their bodies of food consumed.

People with bulimia often suffer from other problems as well, such as

  • Depression and thoughts of suicide
  • Substance abuse

Bingeing and Purging

During a binge, people with bulimia eat large amounts of food, often in less than a few hours. Eating during a binge is almost mindless. They eat without paying attention to what the food tastes like or if they are hungry or full. Binges usually end when there is no more food to eat, their stomachs hurt from eating, or something such as a phone call breaks their concentration on bingeing.

After bingeing, people with bulimia feel guilty and are afraid of gaining weight. To ease their guilt and fear, they purge the food from their bodies by vomiting or other means. They also may turn to extreme exercise or strict dieting. This period of "control" lasts until the next binge, and then the cycle starts again.

Bulimia becomes an attempt to control 2 very strong impulses—the desire to eat and the desire to be thin.

Effects of bulimia

Bulimia can cause serious damage to the body. For example,

  • Teeth start to decay from contact with stomach acids during vomiting.
  • Weight goes up and down.
  • Menstrual periods become irregular or stop.
  • The face and throat look puffy and swollen.
  • Periods of dizziness and blackouts occur.
  • Dehydration caused by loss of body fluids occurs (treatment in a hospital may be needed).
  • Constant upset stomach, constipation, and sore throat may be present.
  • Damage to vital organs such as the liver and kidneys, heart problems, and death can occur.

Treatment

The earlier an eating disorder is recognized, the higher the chances are of treatment working. Treatment depends on many things, including the person's willingness to make changes, family support, and the stage of the eating disorder.

Successful treatment of eating disorders involves a team approach. The team includes many health care professionals working together, each treating a certain aspect of the disorder. Treatment should begin with a visit to a pediatrician to see how the eating disorder has affected the body. If the effects are severe, the person may need medical treatment or even need to be hospitalized.

People with bulimia also may need to be hospitalized to treat medical complications, replace needed nutrients in the body, or stop the cycle of bingeing and purging.

Counseling is an important part of treatment. Counseling helps people with eating disorders understand how they use food as a way to deal with problems and feelings. It helps them improve their self-images and develop the confidence to take control of their lives. Family therapy usually is needed to help family members understand the problem, how to be encouraging and supportive, and how to help manage the symptoms. Nutrition counseling with a registered dietitian also is recommended to assist patients and families in returning to healthy eating habits.

Living with an eating disorder is very hard on teens and their families! The wear and tear on the body is tremendous. Without help, a person with an eating disorder can have serious health problems, become very sick, and even die. However, with treatment, a person can get well and go on to lead a healthy life.

Source: Eating Disorders: Anorexia and Bulimia (Copyright © 2005 American Academy of Pediatrics)

What If My Child Is Being Bullied?

Whether on the basketball court or on the playground or in the neighborhood park, children in the middle years sometimes find themselves the target of bullies. When that happens, these bullies can not only frighten a youngster, shaking his confidence and spoiling his/her social interaction, but they can also cause bodily injury.

Avoiding a bully is one reason your child may be reluctant to go to school. Perhaps he/she is being forced to relinquish his/her belongings to this bully. Or he/she might be fearful of physical harm or public embarrassment/unwanted attention. If you suspect a problem like this, you need to take action to ensure your child's safety and well-being. Here are some strategies he/she can adopt with your help, and which will help make him/her safer:

  • Tell your child not to react to the bully, particularly by giving in to demands. A bully relishes intimidating others and likes nothing better than to see his/her victim cry or become visibly upset in other ways. Getting that response reinforces the bullying behavior. Your child should try to keep his/her composure and simply walk away.
  • If your child's attempts at disregarding a bully's taunts aren't effective, he/she should become assertive with his harasser. While standing tall and looking his/her tormentor in the eyes, he/she should clearly and loudly make a statement like, "Stop! If you keep on, I'm going to report you to the principal." Or, "I'll talk to you, but I'm not going to fight or be ugly. So stop pretending." Sometimes, a strong statement will defuse the situation, and the bully will try to find another, weaker target. Drawing the attention of peers to the bullying situation can embarrass the bully. If your child isn't used to reacting assertively, help him/her rehearse what he/she will say if he/she is confronted.
  • Encourage your child to form strong friendships. A youngster who has loyal friends is less likely to be singled out by a bully, or at least he'll/she'll have some allies if he does become a target of harassment.
  • Talk to your son's or daughter's teacher or to the principal of his/her school if the situation with the bully persists or worsens. You might be reluctant to intervene, perhaps because your child is embarrassed to have you do so, or because you believe he/she needs to learn to deal with these situations on his/her own. On the other hand, you don't want your child's self-confidence to weaken, or his/her physical well-being to be jeopardized. Your youngster deserves to attend school in a safe environment, even if it means both you and the school staff need to become involved.

Let the principal or teacher talk to the bully when he or she sees the inappropriate behavior taking place on the school grounds. This is generally a more effective approach than having you speak with the child or his/her parents.

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