A few months ago, my oldest daughter started gleefully announcing that she would soon be a ‘tweenager. Wait a minute. A what? A quick Google search informed us that children between the ages of 10 and 13 are now considered ‘tweens. Oh.
Benioff Children’s Hospital acknowledges how difficult this time can be for both parents and children. “Young adolescents are continuing to explore their community and world and beginning to develop unique identities separate from their parents. Although it’s not often acknowledged by the child, parents are still extremely important in the life of a young adolescent.” Knowing this, it’s important to understand what they’re going through. Here are a few things you should know about your tween’s health.
1. Physical Health. Local pediatrician Dr. Amber Denham shares, “Parents should remember to bring preteens and adolescents for yearly checkups. Vaccination against HPV starts between ages 9-11. Parents don’t think they need to bring them in if they’re not sick and they’re up to date on shots for school.”
Nutrition also plays a big part in our health. Habits that are made in preteen years can last long into adulthood. Be sure to limit access to low-value foods that are high in fats and sugars and stock up on snacks like low-fat cheese sticks, fruit and veggies, and proteins.
2. Mental Health & Self Esteem. Mental health is a pressing preteen health concern. Local mom Brittany R. shares, “I have watched my child go from a happy healthy girl to an anxious tangled mess of emotions over girl drama that was not mediated through school or parents. I explored all avenues to help my child: pediatrician, therapist, and school counselor. I want her with a clear head and a strong sense of self worth heading into the teen years.”
Bullying, bodily changes, acne, the size of their social group, peer comments, and other external factors such as access to money and brand name clothing can play a huge part in a preteen’s view of themselves. Local mental health counselor, Tara Dixon, shares, “The emotional and social habits learned during these developmental years will be the ones brought into adulthood. It’s important that families work together to develop healthy, effective habits and strategies that will aid their tweens in coping with emotions and challenges.”
3. Cyber Health. Tweens have access to the Internet via cell phones, video games, iPads, laptops, and school computer labs. A recent poll by UNICEF reports that one in three young people have reported being a victim of cyberbullying, and one in five have skipped school due to cyberbullying and threat of violence.
How can parents help? Parents should have access to their tween’s online accounts at all times, including being informed of passwords. Parents should “friend” their tween on all social media platforms. Teach your tween that their voice matters, including when telling others to stop undesired behaviors. If the response isn’t favorable, empower your tween to distance themselves from the situation and not retaliate. Make sure your tween knows that information, including pictures, that are posted online can never be erased.
4. Sleep. Our tweens have so many competing interests that sleep can be sacrificed to texting, watching videos, gaming, and social media. Online resource Sleep.org reports, “The blue light emitted by screens on cell phones, computers, tablets, and televisions restrain the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle or circadian rhythm. Reducing melatonin makes it harder to fall and stay asleep.” To make sure technology isn’t harming your slumber, give yourself at least 30 minutes of gadget-free transition time before hitting the hay.
5. Drugs & Alcohol. When it comes to conversations about drugs and alcohol, it is important to be honest with your tween. Answer all questions as best you can.
Drugfree.org offers these tips for speaking with them about drug and alcohol use:
■ Make sure your child knows your rules and that you’ll enforce the consequences. Research shows that kids are less likely to use drugs if their parents have established clear rules and consequences.
■ Teach them what to say when someone offers them drugs.
■ Preteens aren’t concerned with what might result from drug use, but they are concerned about their appearance. Tell them about the smelly hair and ashtray breath caused by cigarettes.
■ Get to know your child’s friends and their parents. Check in by phone to make sure they are on the same page with prohibiting drug or alcohol use.
6. Puberty & Sexual Health. Hormones, mood swings, developing bodies, sex, pregnancy, and STDs are all concerns that tween parents should be discussing with their tweens. If you are not comfortable having this discussion with them, reach out to their doctor.
7. Financial Health. Whether you believe in giving an allowance or having children perform chores for payment, tweens should be given the responsibility of managing small amounts of money. Understanding the value of money, the importance of setting a budget, and saving versus spending are all crucial lessons for tweens who will enter the job market and contribute to the economy.
Need More Resources?
Dr. Denham concludes, “Several places in town, such as Woman’s Hospital and Our Lady of the Lake Hospital offer classes for parents and kids on some of these topics. Talking openly and honestly in an age-appropriate way with tweens is very important. The classes can sometimes facilitate that discussion for parents who are uncomfortable or less knowledgeable.” ■