The teenage years mark the beginning of a young person’s growing independence. Much like branching of a young eagle preparing for first flight, this is a time when a young person begins to flap their own wings in the process of leaving home. This gradual gaining of social, educational, relational, spiritual, physical, financial, and vocational abilities eventually lead to the skills necessary for full independence. Thus, the process is quite important and should be encouraged by parents. It’s a time of great learning but also a time of danger. Children are not born with the needed wisdom, abilities and experience for independent living. This comes gradually with a myriad of experiences and parental and societal teaching. How a parent responds to all this will make a big difference. Independence should be encouraged, but all the while, supervision is needed.
There is a tension that naturally develops in the parent-child relationship in this regard at this time of life. The child will pull towards more and more independence and parent will want to be more cautious. This tension is NORMAL. However, it is tension none the less. Wise parents progressively allow more and more independence of their teenager as they demonstrate wise decisions, all the while giving the needed supervision. All parents and teenagers must deal with this progressive attaining of independence that the teenager will achieve as they leave home. We will address some of the ways this tension plays out.
Without a doubt, cell phones, iPads, and computers are a huge part of teenage culture. These communication devices enable teens to keep up with their friends, to know what is happening, to make announcements, to explore relationships, to research facts, to make social decisions and enter into social interactions in ways that shield information from parents (a part of the parent child independence issue described above). As we have stated, teenagers long for independence, yet at the same time also need supervision from their parents to make healthy life choices and avoid disasters. Your management of cell phone use, social media and the Internet, is crucial to helping your child navigate the wonders and the perils of adolescence.
The Internet, Face-book and Twitter:
Social media sites have become extremely popular with teenagers, having become entrenched into the teenage psyche in deep ways. Instagram, Twitter and Face-book interactions affect teenage relationships in many deep ways. For these reasons, it is important to monitor your child’s postings on social media sites. Some posting to social media sites can be dark and menacing. Watch for signs of cyber-bullying (both as the person who is aggressive and as the person who is abused). Watch for inappropriate content. Sites such as AskFM.com allow anonymous posts, which are ideal for cyber-bullying. You should monitor social media sites to help your child navigate these relationships.
Cell phones: Despite what your child might say to the contrary, cell phones pose many dangers to teenagers. This is especially true of internet enabled cell phones. A few cell phone guidelines are in order:
- We recommend delaying a cell phone purchase for your child until at least entrance into the 7th grade. When you buy your child their first cell phone, avoid an Internet enabled device. Buy a simple cell phone that is voice and text enabled only. Access to the Internet by a smart phone, allows your child to have direct access to pornography. With the explicit nature of video pornography which is available on a smart phone, your child can easily watch material which is absolutely unfit for teenagers, damaging them sexually and morally. The device you choose makes the decision of what your child will view. Choose wisely. Expand their capabilities slowly. Provide your child with the device that is suitable for their maturity.
- Until your child matures, consider avoiding phones or phone accounts that can send photos. Inappropriate photos of children less than 18 years which expose nudity, however innocently taken, are considered child pornography and are felony crimes punishable with prison sentences. There is a phenomenon called sexting which has become prevalent in teenagers. There are reports of young teen-aged women in our society who have taken sexual photos of themselves and sent them to their boyfriends. Some of those boyfriends have subsequently sent the photos electronically to other people. This has resulted in suicide for some of these young girls, embarrassment for others and felony child pornography charges for the young people who had those photos on their phone. If your child should receive a sext, have them immediately delete it. It’s a crime for that photo to be on their phone, even if they weren’t responsible for sending it. Of course, encourage your child never, ever to send a sexually explicit photo of themselves electronically to anyone. In addition, warn your teenage girls to avoid posting photos of themselves in scantily clothed swimsuits on social media sites. These photos cannot be recalled and are in the public domain for life.
- At night, your child’s cell phone and computer should be placed in the parent’s custody, so that late night conversations, emails and texts don’t occur. Do not let your teenager sleep with a cell phone! They may well be up all night sending and receiving text messages and instagrams. Many kids are doing poorly in school because of late night texting and screen time that limits sleep time. It is vital that you control who has access to your child’s attention in the middle of the night. That control is achieved with nightly parental possession of the cell phone, ipad and computer. It’s that simple. If your child needs an alarm clock, buy them one. Don’t use a cell phone for that function.
- Examine the contents of your child’s phone messages and texts often. Announce to your child that you will be checking and reading their messages. This is not an invasion of their privacy, it is protecting your child from real dangers. You have that right and obligation as their parent to monitor their relationships. If your child refuses to give you their password to access their phone content, discontinue their cell phone service. The use of a cell phone by your teenager is a privilege that is earned. Teenagers have no right to privacy from their parents. A teenager’s right to privacy legally begins on their 18th birthday.
- Many health authorities are concerned about the cumulative damage that cell phone radiation exposure might do to the brain. There has been a call to research this area. Thus, early and prolonged cell phone use could present an unknown danger to a child’s health.
Television and Motion Pictures: TV and motion pictures often present mature sexually charged content. You should control the viewing of this content.
Simply put: WE HIGHLY RECOMMEND THAT YOU LIMIT AND TIGHTLY CONTROL CELL PHONE USAGE AND SCREEN TIME CONTENT FOR YOUR CHILD.
Other dangers: In teenagers, most serious accidents involve the mixture of automobiles and alcohol and/or drugs. Of course, we do not recommend the use of these substances. Should you suspect that your child is on drugs, bring them in for an office visit.
All-terrain vehicles and motorcycles are also particularly dangerous. Their use is discouraged.
Suicide, sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies are major health problems in adolescents. Adolescent sexual activity can result in sexually transmitted disease (including AIDS, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, genital warts, cervical cancer, HPV, herpes, vaginosis and others), emotional problems and pregnancy. To show the scope of the problem of early sexual activity by American teenagers, studies have shown that 50% of high school students are sexually active, many of whom have multiple partners. Over one-third of all ninth grade students in the US are sexually active. Many of the sexually transmitted diseases at first have minor symptoms which teenagers tend to ignore. These diseases can result in permanent damage to the reproductive organs which lead to infertility and other major health problems. In addition, some sexually transmitted diseases can cause serious disease and even kill (AIDS and syphilis).
The teen pregnancy rate in the United States is higher than that of any other industrialized country in the world. The rate in Arkansas is at or near the top of these statistics in the US. Many teen pregnancies result in abortions of the baby, with its attendant guilt and damage to the uterus. It is imperative that our children and young adults be taught the dangers of early sexual relationships. To avoid these problems, we recommend abstinence of sexual relationships until marriage. It is important that discussion of this topic occur early in your child’s life, preferably well before junior high school. If you need help in communicating this subject to your teenager, please schedule an appointment with one of our physicians. We will be glad to assist you and your teenager. Please see our reading list.
For those adolescents who choose to engage in early sexual relationships, careful medical attention is needed to avoid disastrous complications. Examination of the genitalia of both boys and girls is needed for the sexually active teenager, including pelvic exams for girls. We perform these exams in our practice. Please see the section on genitalia in this handbook for a discussion of when pelvic exams should be done for a girl. In addition, sexually active girls may be referred to a gynecologist. Although we do not recommend that adolescents engage in early sexual relationships, we do manage the problems that early sexual behavior creates in a manner which is not judgmental.
Our physicians and staff care very deeply about our adolescent patients and the problems which they face in today’s world. Not only do we welcome adolescents with problems such as unwanted pregnancies, venereal disease, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, and other major adolescent problems, we view these problems as opportunities to make a positive impact in a teenager’s life. Young people, if you face one of these problems, or parents, if you suspect that your teenager is facing such problems, please know that our office is a place of acceptance and help for you.
Open, honest lines of communication between parent and child during this time of transition are extremely important to help teenagers avoid disastrous life-style choices. Withdrawal, acting out, changes in behavior and/or friends and problems at school should never be ignored. These may be warning signs that your teenager is undergoing stress. Depression can result. Because of the risk of suicide in this age group, these symptoms should be brought to our attention if they occur.
Parental involvement in a teenager’s life can be a gratifying and helpful experience both for the teenager and the parent. You should stay involved in your child’s life by keeping your communication lines wide open. Accident prevention for your child is a lifelong endeavor. Common sense and effort go a long way to ensure that your child’s life will be a long healthy one.