If you’re raising a child, you are likely familiar with the ups and downs of parenting. When children are young, bandages for skinned knees and hot chocolate for a bad day can easily make things right again.
But as kids grow, parents and caregivers can be faced with challenges that are more difficult to fix. Of course, children need to explore their own limits and abilities, as well as the boundaries you set. They also need to express themselves as individuals. It is all part of their path to becoming independent young adults, with their own identities.
But are you seeing changes in your son or daughter that seem sudden or outside what feels like the normal part of adolescence? According to the World Health Organization’s recent report on adolescent health, half of all mental health disorders in adulthood start by age 14, yet most cases are not diagnosed or treated.
May is Mental Health Month and a good reminder that certain behaviors could be a sign of depression or require guidance from a physician or mental health professional. Here are a few example of teens’ risky behavior that can lead to or make existing mental health problems worse. Being aware of these signs and taking action early on can improve teen health outcomes.
Drinking and drug use
Over 10% of all alcohol consumed in the United States in 2015 was a result of underage drinking (12-20 year olds), according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report. 90% of this alcohol was consumed in the form of binge drinking.
Talking to your child about the dangers of substance abuse beginning at an early age is critical. You should also stress that if they are ever in trouble or engage in unsafe behavior, they can always come to you for help. It is never too soon to start building trust. When kids have a trusted adult to confide in, they are less likely to turn to alcohol or drugs.
However, if you suspect your child is abusing drugs or alcohol, talk to their physician or school counselor immediately to get help and guidance.
Dangerous behavior behind-the wheel
According to a 2015 AAA research, distraction was a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe crashes involving teenagers, which is four times as many as previous estimates based on police reports. While 94% of teen drivers surveyed acknowledge the dangers of texting and driving, over a third admitted to doing it anyway. Of teen driving fatalities in 2016, 21% were caused by texting and driving.
Having regular conversations about safety, practicing driving together, and leading by example go a long way in ensuring that your teen makes smart decisions when they get behind the wheel. Signing a safe driving contract, such as this one from the CDC, together can also be helpful.
Unprotected sexual activity
Many adults are uncomfortable with the idea of teen sexuality and prefer not to bring up the issue. But according to a recent study on adolescent sexual behavior in the United States, 46% of all high school age students and 62% of high school seniors have had sexual intercourse.
Some kids engage in this behavior to “fit in” and do not consider the consequences. That’s why we need to talk to our kids from an early age about sexuality and the risks of unprotected sex. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but it is a vitally important dialogue to have with your child. Here is a helpful age-by-age guide to get the conversation started.
Risky online behavior
According to recent research from McAfee and the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA), adolescents spend more time on social media than any other age group, with a fifth spending more than four hours logged on every day.
There are inherent risks when adolescents are online for this amount of time, including being vulnerable to cyber bullying, stalking, online sexual behavior (sexting) and identity theft. However, many young people do not have the boundaries or technical knowledge to protect themselves online.
Setting boundaries and discussing expectations related to social media from the outset can help prevent risky behavior. Explain the importance of never giving out personal information online and how the pictures we post today will live forever on the Internet. Teaching teens social media etiquette on sites like Facebook or Instagram can also prevent
Most importantly, lead a positive example by modeling good phone behavior. Turn off your device at dinnertime and insist your family do the same. Spend a “technology free” weekend away together. For more ideas and information, download BodiMojo’s free ebook, Your Guide to a Smartphone-Friendly Family.