Teen Health | Jiahui Specialists Share Their Best Advice

Many of us cringe when we look back on our teenage years. Remember that clumsy first kiss, that sense of dread when we didn’t do so well on a math test, and that urge to binge on ice cream in front of the TV on a Friday night? Teenagers today are seemingly catapulted into adulthood. For parents in Shanghai, discussing physical and emotional health in addition to nutrition and problems specific to expat life might seem daunting, but it is nonetheless fundamental to ensure your teen is on the right track to a happy, fulfilling and successful adulthood.

(Originally formatted article on ShanghaiMamas WeChat here)

We asked Jiahui teen health specialists for some advice on how to keep on top of your teen’s health.

“How can I help my kids manage the stress of moving to a new country?”

Open communication can set your child’s mind at ease. Inform them as early as possible about your moving plan and new home. Emphasize the fun of discovery while reassuring them that family life won’t change and that they can always keep in contact with friends back home.

After the move, try to re-establish familiar routines like the family meal. Once you’re settled, slowly integrate new activities, emphasizing the excitement of your new country and the chance to make new friends. Plan together what you’d like to see and do.

Your teen may experience mood changes, but remember that this is normal; let them express themselves openly during the transition. If your teen has still not adjusted after the family has settled, there are a number of professionals available who help families with the stress of relocating.
-Dr. Susan CADZOW – pediatrician

“What are the biggest emotional challenges that teens face, and when should I seek professional help”

Expectations about grades put enormous pressure on children. While it’s good to encourage hard work, pushing too hard will increase stress. Let them know that grades do not define them; there are other measures of success in life.

Socially, a big challenge for teens is forging an independent identity. During this time, bullying can deeply affect their sense of self-worth. As children get older, bullying becomes subtle and harder to spot. Increasingly, it happens online. If bullying persists, it’s a serious risk factor for anxiety, depression and suicide.

If you think your teenager’s behavior isn’t “normal”, it may be helpful to seek help. Suicidal thoughts, self-harming, and isolation are all red flags. Teenagers might resist getting support due to embarrassment. Reassure them that seeking help is a problem-solving skill, not a shortcoming. We all need to see a doctor when we’re ill; emotional health is no less important.

-Dr. Felice SOO – clinical psychologist

“How can parents encourage fitness?”

There are a variety of means to take an active interest in your teen’s fitness. First and foremost, encourage them to do exercises that they genuinely enjoy – whether walking the dog or playing squash with Dad. If your teen is overweight, it is important to make a realistic plan to help them achieve a healthier weight. Slow and steady wins the race; mark their achievements to keep them motivated and they’ll enjoy the process more and develop a better relationship with health and fitness.

For children and teensaged 6-17, guidelines suggest they should be getting at least one hour of exercise per day including: cardiovascular activities such as swimming or cycling, strength training exercises such as pushups or squat jumps, and bone-strengthening activities for example running or football.

-Michael HAN – fitness manager

“What’s the best way to introduce and discuss the topic of sexual health?”

Discussing sexual health with your teen may feel awkward, but it can reduce risks. While sex education at school is helpful, it’s not always enough. Discussions should focus on prevention but don’t have to be actively planned; they can happen spontaneously at teachable moments (e.g. when discussing the news).

It’s best to keep conversations two-way so your teen feels listened to. Their engagement depends on their receptiveness to whoever’s advising them. This might be you, a physician, or a school counselor. Often a healthcare professional will be trusted as an impartial source of information and counseling can fill the gap by providing information that may otherwise default to peers or the internet. A teen health specialist can support on issues such as STIs, pregnancy, consent, sexual identity, and relationships.

-Dr. Peter LEE – family medicine physician

“How should I prevent my teen from picking up bad habits like smoking and binge drinking?”

It’s normal for teenagers to seek autonomy and a sense of belonging beyond the family. Consequently, they often engage in risky behaviors to “fit in”.

As a parent, you naturally want to discourage harmful behavior. But to your teen, “laying down the parental law” might be interpreted as a threat to their identity, causing more resistance.

So, how can you guide your teen away from harm while encouraging self-expression? How do you be the mentor, not the dictator?

It might sound counter-intuitive, but one way is to stop trying to convince them to stop, at least initially. Instead, listen to them; what are they really passionate about? Guide them towards pursuing these healthier interests. A group activity, like team sports, can satisfy their desire for belonging and help them shed their old identity and habits.

-Qi CHENG – child life specialist

“How does social media affect teen health, and how can I make sure my child is safe online?”

Teenagers have a hard time resisting the dopamine rush that comes with racking up likes and followers, to the detriment of other worthwhile activities. In fact, social media is strongly linked with compulsive behaviors like habitually checking for updates, which can lead to sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression.

There’s no denying it. Social media is a part of everyday life and isn’t going away anytime soon. Measures you can take to mitigate harm are:

Wait until your child is at least 12 years old before joining social media
Negotiate the time they can spend online per day (ideally no more than one hour)
Educate your child about social media safety: strict privacy settings, no friending strangers, no meeting online-only friends
Use a shared computer

–Selina LIN – mental health counselor