Talking to Your Teen About Protecting Self-Worth
Some might say that when their son or daughter hit teenage years, it was like a switch flipped. Suddenly, they become moody or distant. At other times, they can be careless or forgetful, and may be more drawn to risky behaviors such as drinking, smoking, drugs, or even staying up too late. It can seem like they are a new person.
While these changes can be alarming to parents, they often are just as concerning for the teens themselves. This is where Beebe Wellness Centers—school-based health centers—can step in and provide a safe space for both teens and their families.
So why do teens often engage in risky behaviors?
Lisa Bartels, MD, a family medicine physician with Beebe Family Practice—Lewes and Medical Director for the Wellness Centers, says it has a lot to do with brain development. “There are changes in brain function involved with emotional response, and the inter-pretation of experiences and reactions,” Dr. Bartels says. “Those in early adolescence primarily use concrete thinking and have a poor understanding of implications. As adolescence progresses, they’re likely to have more insights, but also more experimentation.”
And, while all experimentation isn’t bad, it can be hard for parents to be the only voice of caution. In many cases, teens do not want to listen—what do parents know anyway, right?
Marcy Bradley, PA, of the Sussex Central Wellness Center, says her team is right there to talk to students about their concerns, whether it may be peer pressure to drink, relationship issues, or even family issues. “A lot of our students are experiencing anxiety around not only their lives, but their family as well,” Marcy says. Each Wellness Center team includes a licensed clinical social worker who can help counsel both students and their families. “We say we treat the whole family here,” says Lisa Rector, LCSW, at Sussex Central. Anxiety is also a big concern—almost a quarter of high school students surveyed in Delaware said they felt sad or hopeless at some point.
Know Your Resources
Adolescents and teens sometimes feel pressured by peers to engage in risky behaviors. Those are the things that keep you up at night—fears about your children’s emotional wellbeing and body image, and whether or not they will learn personal responsibility.
“In early adolescence, it’s important to offer a high degree of supervision,” Dr. Bartels says. “However, as the years progress, teens may start seeking more independence. Adults can set limits and guide them through this new period of life.”
The Wellness Centers offer a variety of resources, both within the school and in the community. Parents who may have concerns about their children can feel comfortable talking out those concerns with the school-based team.
Parents should also feel confident talking to their teens. Your teen wants to know that you are on his or her side. Remember, they need your support now more than ever.
Talk it Out
Conversations are the keystone for healthy parent-child relationships, especially in this precarious stage of life. Position yourself, the parent, as a “safe space.” Talk with teens about the hard stuff—whether it’s new friends or peer pressure to smoke or drink. Reinforce that you won’t tolerate bad or risky behaviors, but that it’s OK to make mistakes—and that you are a resource and support, no matter what.
Give your teen some freedom and make sure they know where the boundaries are. Take time to discuss limits and boundaries, what constitutes breaking those boundaries, and what the consequences can be.
Reward positive behaviors and choices, and consider indulging your child in “healthy” risk-taking. If they are interested in skateboarding or skiing, help them learn ways to perform their best while keeping safety in mind. If they are interested in cooking, teach them how to make a favorite recipe and how to protect themselves when using sharp knives or a hot stove.
It’s not your imagination—that may be your teenage driver peeling out in the driveway. Whether supervised or unsupervised, driving is a big responsibility, and distracted or careless driving can have fatal consequences. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens—but they’re preventable.
+ Buckle up! Teens are less likely to wear seatbelts. Wearing them can reduce the severity of injuries in a crash.
+ Practice, practice, practice. Teens in Delaware have driver’s education as part of the school curriculum. Start the process at home and then talk to the school to determine how the student is progressing through the course. Teens need to learn the basics of handling a vehicle and how to identify dangerous situations.
+ Enforce distraction-free driving. Using a phone or other device while driving is illegal in Delaware. Encourage putting the phone in the backseat or trunk to avoid temptation. Be a good role model and don’t use your phone while driving either.
Did you know? 2 in 5 sexually active teen girls have had a sexually transmitted disease (STD), which can lead to long-term health consequences.
Connect With Teens
Beebe Medical Group partners with the Delaware Department of Health And Social Services (DHSS) to run three Wellness Centers, or School-Based Health Centers (SBHCs). The centers provide age-appropriate health care, including mental health counseling in a supportive setting. Parents provide written consent to allow their students to access services.
Each center is staffed by a nurse practitioner or physician assistant, a licensed clinical social worker, and a registered dietitian. The teams provide a vast spectrum of care—from sports physicals to support groups and education on healthy eating and exercise.
Most importantly, the staff talks with teens about avoiding risky behaviors.
“Teens learn how to access healthcare independently and make their own decisions. Research shows that teens who talk to trained adults will engage in fewer risky behaviors,” says Marcy Bradley, PA, with the Sussex Central Wellness Center.
“Our staff works extensively with teens, and we help families find balance and maintain oversight over their teens’ behavior.”
The Wellness Centers utilize the Rapid Assessment for Adolescent Preventive Services (RAAPS) as a screening tool. Students use an iPad to take a short survey about their behaviors, which leads to a supportive discussion on healthy choices and decision making. The assessment considers every risky behavior a teen might encounter, from alcohol and drug use, to poor nutrition and lack of physical activity.
To address the results of these assessments, students have access to a variety of support resources, including group activities such as yoga classes, weight-loss rewards programs, and Alateen groups for teens coping with alcoholism in their families.
“Adolescents are typically a medically underserved part of our population,” Marcy says. “They need a readily accessible source of care which is sensitive to their developmental and emotional needs.”
“Students may be coping with issues at home, and the Wellness Center gives them a ‘safe space’ with someone to talk to.”