During the teen years, everything about a person can change drastically. He often grows inches taller and gains weight. Her facial features will change. Puberty hits and hormones contribute to huge emotional and psychological shifts. Academic ability also improves, allowing the child to become an independent adult with his or her own thoughts, opinions, and ideas about the world and their place in it.
It is during these years that habits can be created that will impact your teen’s physical health for the rest of his or her life – to the negative or to the positive. The good news is that, as their parent, you can have a significant impact on helping him or her to make positive choices that will lead to lifelong health and wellness – and you also have the ability to step in and intervene if your teen begins making choices that are harmful to his or her health.
Here’s what you need to know about helping your teen to get healthy now in preparation for a long and balanced life.
Frequently Asked Questions
Get the answers to these questions and answers to many other frequently asked questions.
Research & Statistics
Almost 7 percent of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 reported past-month use of cigarettes in 2012. Get more statistics and data on teen health issues.
Drugs on the Body and Mind
During the teen years, a time of incredible development, any substance abuse is exponentially more dangerous. Learn about the effects of substance abuse on a growing teen.
Treatment Therapy Options
There are a number of treatment options that may be beneficial for teens who struggle with substance abuse and/or a mental health problem.
How Much Exercise Should My Teen Get?
It is recommended that teenagers get a minimum of an hour a day of exercise. Whether this comes in the form of a jog before school, afterschool sports, or swimming at the neighborhood pool on the weekends, there needs to be a minimum amount of daily exercise that includes a cardiovascular workout and weight-bearing exercises.
Not sure how to convince your teen to get off the couch? Talk them into doing something they like to do with the family or with friends, or open them up to new ideas by signing him for a recreational sport at the local community center during the summer or taking the entire family hiking on the weekends.
Remember: Just as too little exercise can be harmful, too much exercise can be harmful as well. If your teen seems to work out compulsively even when ill, or if they catalog calories burned to ensure that they’re eating fewer than they’re using every day for a net loss, it can be the sign of an exercise addiction.
What Foods Should My Teen Add or Eliminate From Their Diet?
In general, the advice for teens is similar to adults when it comes to eating the right foods and avoiding others. Teens should focus on making sure that they get enough fruits and vegetables in the day – almost no one gets enough servings unless they are actively trying to do so – and eliminate the junk foods and fillers that can take the place of nutrient-rich foods and potentially be harmful.
- Fruits and vegetables: Cover half the plate with fresh or cooked produce at every meal and include more with snacks and dessert.
- Lean proteins: Chicken and turkey, lean ground beef, fish, and beans are recommended sources of protein.
- Whole grains: The less processed the better when it comes to carbohydrate intake. If it says “whole” in front of the grain name on the ingredient list or if it comes in a bulk bin and is a grain, then you’ve likely hit on the foods that should make up at least 50 percent of your carbohydrate intake.
- Nutrient-rich foods: Get the most “bang for your buck” by choosing foods that naturally have a range of vitamins and minerals over heavily processed foods that offer lots of calories with little nutritive value.
Limit or eliminate:
- Saturated fats
- Trans fat
- Calorie-dense, nutrient-depleted foods
- Highly processed foods
While it’s impossible for you to attempt to stop your teen from ever eating a cookie again, try to serve meals that are heavy in fruits and vegetables and made with whole grains and minimized processed foods of any kind. This will help your teen to look and feel better, both important at any age.
How Do I Teach My Teen to Deal with Bullies?
Bullies are hard to deal with at any age, but grow more and more common as a child grows older. Helping your child to identify bullying when she sees it and respond in a way that will cut the experience short will help to limit the damage to her self-esteem. To help your teen, you can:
- Listen. Let your teen tell you the whole story of what’s happening and ask questions to better understand the context. For example, if it’s cyberbullying, you may be able to nip it in the bud by blocking the bully or putting your child’s account under better protections. The more you know, the better able you will be to offer positive assistance. Plus, just knowing that you care and are there to talk to about it can be beneficial.
- Monitor your teen’s communications. Texts, emails, and social media are often forums for bullying so if you have proof who is doing what and how, you’ll be better able to help your teen get some things changed.
- Intervene. If there is any threat of violence or harm, racist or misogynist comments, or anything that suggests that your teen will be hurt in any way, talk to their teacher, the principal, the coach – whoever can help you intervene most effectively.
What Can I Do About Guns and Violence at My Teen’s School?
There are a number of different things you can do to increase your teen’s safety at school either by helping to mitigate gun violence or helping him to protect himself most effectively in the event of a shooting.
- Run/hide/fight. If there is a shooter, many people say that the best advice is to run as far and fast as you can, and if you can’t do that, then hide. Advise your teen only to fight if he or she is unable to run or hide – it’s a last resort.
- Advocate for education in the schools. Helping kids to understand the danger of guns and how to deal with a shooter can help to mitigate harm if it should occur.
- Advocate for better security at school. The measures that are most appropriate to increase security at high schools will vary depending upon the circumstances. It may be helpful to have metal detectors, armed guards, and/or secure entrances to better protect students.
How Can I Help My Teen If They are Suffering from PTSD/trauma?
Teens, like adults, may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or trauma after experiencing a sexual or physical assault, ongoing sexual or physical abuse, a deadly natural disaster, a terrorist event, a loved one’s suicide, and other life-threatening or deadly events. It is believed that between 14 and 43 percent of boys and girls live through at least one trauma, and that of that number, between 3 and 15 percent of young women, and 1 to 6 percent of young men, will develop PTSD.
If you are concerned that your teen is struggling with PTSD, help is available. Certain kinds of therapies (e.g., exposure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy) can help her to manage symptoms, process the trauma, and learn how to function more positively going forward. If drug or alcohol abuse is part of the problem, treatment will be required for this issue as well.
How Do I Best Secure Prescription Medications in the Home to Protect My Teen?
Finding old leftover prescriptions for addictive drugs (e.g., benzodiazepines, opiate painkillers, stimulant drugs, etc.) kept in the bathroom medicine cabinet “just in case” is one of the most common ways that teenagers initially experiment with these addictive and potentially deadly drugs.
The best way to ensure that your teen doesn’t inadvertently overdose by taking these medications or begin a lifelong struggle with addiction is to get them out of the house. Safely get rid of all medications by taking them to a local drug take back location, and if you have an ongoing prescription for an addictive substance, make sure that you safeguard it effectively by keeping it in a secure location and monitor your pills so that you can tell if any are missing.
Is There Any Value in Video Games?
Much has been made of the harmful effects that come from too much exposure to video games during the teen years: a lack of attention to academics and extracurricular activities, lack of exercise, and risk of addiction to the behavior. But a study published in the journal American Psychologist suggests that there may be some positive benefits for teens who play video games on occasion, including practicing how to handle violence, conflict, and other difficult issues in a nonthreatening environment – issues that may come up for them in adulthood.
Especially in online video games that require teens to work with others on a team in order to obtain an objective, teens can practice working together and accepting the strengths and weaknesses of their peers. Whether online or not, teens will practice strategizing in order to move from level to level and improve hand/eye coordination as well.
How Can the Internet and Social Media Affect My Teen’s Mental Health?
If limited and heavily monitored, social media and internet usage can be hugely positive. Interacting with friends in a fun way, keeping in touch with extended family members who live far away, and, later, connecting with potential employers can make Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and other sites beneficial for teens.
But unrestricted use can lead to potentially damaging effects; parents need to know what their teens are posting online – the digital imprint can be impossible to erase (or overcome) if others have access to it and pass it around. And then there’s the potential for addiction to the technology of choice that can get in the way of their relationships with family, their academic progress, and their ability to achieve future goals.
How Can I Spot the Signs if My teen is Suicidal?
Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in the United States, and the third most common cause of death among young adults between the ages of 15 and 24. Because suicidal thoughts and tendencies are often related to untreated mental health disorders, professional treatment can help if signs are recognized early enough. Some signs of a potential suicide attempt in a teenager include:
- Struggling with a romantic attachment
- Sudden change in academic results
- Sudden changes in personality and interests
- Sudden changes in hygiene and appearance
- Pulling away from friends and family
- Risk-taking behaviors
- Difficulty relating to peers or family members
- Obsession with death (e.g., drawings, music, movie interests focused on death, etc.)
- Giving away their favorite things
- Running away
- Altered eating or sleep patterns
- Substance abuse
- Talking about death or dying, even as a joke
- Any history of suicidal actions or attempts
If you believe that your teen is suicidal, do not wait to take action. Get help immediately.
Are Energy Drinks Bad for Teens?
- High blood pressure
- Digestive issues
Additionally, teens who mix alcohol with energy drinks take on a whole slew of risks: the high level of caffeine in energy drinks can hide some of the effects of the alcohol, causing them to drink more. But when the caffeine wears off, the full amount of alcohol in the system can become overpowering, making accidents under the influence, alcohol-related medical emergency, and related issues (e.g., becoming the victim or perpetrator of sexual abuse) more likely.
What are the Risks of Drug Edibles?
With the passing of legislation legalizing the use of marijuana for medicinal and/or recreational purposes in many states, there has come a new line of marijuana-laced products designed to give users the high without the smoke exposure. However, these products may be more dangerous to the user – especially teens – despite the escape from smoke inhalation.
The biggest issue may be that because it can take 30 minutes or more for the effects of marijuana to be felt after eating a marijuana edible, many teens may take more than recommended. By law, there can only be 10 milligrams of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in each serving of a marijuana edible – but if there are 10 servings in a cookie or brownie, then a teen who eats the whole thing or more than a serving could ingest as much as 100 milligrams of THC. Comparatively, about 5 milligrams of THC is ingested per puff when marijuana is smoked, making marijuana exceedingly potent.
What Inhalants are Teens Abusing?
Teens may be more likely than any other population group to abuse inhalant substances – or substances easily found around the house that elicit a “buzz” when their fumes are inhaled. Some of the most commonly abused inhalant substances among teens, include:
- Aerosols (e.g., cooking sprays, spray paint, hairspray)
- Solvents (e.g., nail polish remover, paint thinner)
- Gases (e.g., reusable whipping cream canisters with nitrous “bullets,” propane from propane tanks)
- Nitrites (e.g., “poppers”)
How Do I Teach My Teen About Drinking and Driving?
By the time they reach 12th grade, most teenagers have had a drink at some point in their lives. About 20 percent of teens exhibit behaviors that classify them as problem drinkers. It’s important that you talk about the dangers of drinking in any amount from the time that they are around 9 years old. Make it clear that they should never drive if they’ve had anything at all to drink and they should never get in the car with anyone who has been drinking. Have this conversation frequently, and model the behaviors you promote yourself. “More is caught than taught,” goes the saying, and it applies to your alcohol intake as well as other areas of child-rearing.
Remember that buzzed driving is just as dangerous as, and in some areas of the country, more prevalent than drinking and driving. Make sure that your teens knows that getting behind the wheel while under the influence of any substance, including marijuana, prescription drugs, and even cold medication, can put their safety and the safety of others at extreme risk.
Addiction and Treatment Statistics and Research
According to the Monitoring the Future survey conducted in 2014 among teenagers, young people may be using less drugs and alcohol than they have in past years but their abuse of concerning devices and substances like e-cigarettes is up. It’s clear that the perception of certain substances as harmful has dropped considerably as well, given the current legislative changes taking place around the country regarding marijuana. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports the following 2014 survey findings:
Marijuana was the most popular drug of abuse among both 8th graders and high school seniors. Almost 12 percent of 8th graders reported past-year use of the drug, and about 35 percent of high school seniors reported using marijuana in the year prior to the survey.
For 8th graders, the second most commonly abused substance was inhalants: more than 5 percent reported past-year use. Other top substances of abuse in this age group included synthetic marijuana, cough medicine, tranquilizers, Adderall, hallucinogens, and other prescription drugs including OxyContin, Vicodin, and Ritalin.
For high school seniors, the second most commonly abused substance was Adderall, the attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drug commonly prescribed to teens. Other prescription drugs including sedatives in general, Ritalin (another ADHD medication), and opiate painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin also ranked high on the list. Synthetic marijuana was the third most commonly abused substance in this age group.
Alcohol use among teens was in decline as compared to past years but still a prevalent issue. About 9 percent of 8th graders, more than 23 percent of sophomores, and 37 percent of seniors reported past-month alcohol use. About 19 percent of high school seniors also reported binge drinking behaviors in the past year as well.
Emotional and mental health issues during the teen years may be due to more than just hormonal changes that occur during the transition into adulthood, but they may also be a normal part of development. If any mental health symptoms become problematic for your teen, you can help them by being supportive, offering to connect them with treatment, and remaining positive.
Self-destructive behaviors, disordered eating or exercise habits, behaviors that hurt other people, extended grief, deep depression, intense anxiety, and suicidal thoughts or tendencies are among the issues that can indicate an underlying mental health disorder that requires treatment.
Other Health Issues
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that the following is true about teens in the United States:
More than 18 percent of teens between the ages of 12 and 19 struggled with obesity in 2010.
In 2013, more than 273,000 babies were born to young women between the ages of 15 and 19.
Almost 7 percent of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 reported past-month use of cigarettes in 2012.
In 2013, 47 percent of surveyed high school students reported they had engaged in sex. Of this number, 15 percent said that they had engaged in sex with more than four people, 41 percent said they did not use a condom, and only 22 percent reported ever having been tested for HIV. About 10,000 teens between the ages of 13 and 24 were diagnosed with HIV in 2013. About half of the 20 million new cases of STDs in the United States occurred in the 15-24 age group.
More than 9,400 teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 died in 2013. The top three causes of death in this age group are accidents, homicide, and suicide – all preventable.
Drugs on the Body and Mind
The impact of drugs and alcohol on the brain and body are significant no matter what age the user, but during the teen years, a time of incredible development, any substance abuse is exponentially more dangerous.
These changes not only alter a person’s personality and choices while under the influence but can cause life-altering changes that hinder their ability to function on multiple levels. Teens who abuse drugs or alcohol regularly may lose IQ points and be more likely to develop a lifelong struggle with addiction. Additionally, every use of drugs or alcohol can result in overdose or deadly accident.
Unfortunately, many parents and teens believe that drinking and drug use during high school and college are normal parts of growing up. This is not the case. No amount of alcohol or any mind-altering substance is harmless and without risk for teens. So-called “experimentation” can be deadly at worst and negatively life-altering at best. It’s just not worth it.
- Alcohol: Every organ and system in the body can be negatively impacted by heavy drinking whether it happens once or twice a month or regularly over time. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, some effects include:
- Brain: Alcohol use disrupts how the brain looks and functions in the drinker, with changes becoming more pronounced over time and with regular drinking. Cognitive function, emotion management, and coordination may all be negatively impacted.
- Heart: Binge drinking or heavy drinking can contribute to a range of cardiac issues including arrhythmias, high blood pressure, stroke, and cardiomyopathy.
- Liver: Chronic, heavy drinking can create liver problems including fibrosis, alcoholic fatty liver disease, cirrhosis, and alcoholic hepatitis.
- Pancreas: Pancreatitis, defined by inflammation and swelling of blood vessels in the pancreas that negatively impact digestion can occur with regular drinking.
- Immune system: For up to 24 hours after binge drinking or heavy drinking, the immune system is lower and may make it more difficult to ward off infections and illness. With chronic drinking, the immune system is weakened significantly, increasing the likelihood that the drinker will contract chronic diseases including tuberculosis or pneumonia.
- Cancers: Drinkers may have an increased risk of developing liver cancer, breast cancer, throat cancer, mouth cancer, and esophageal cancer.
- Drugs: Depending upon the drug of choice, the impact of the substance will vary considerably on different systems. Additionally, if substances are combined, multiple organs and systems can be attacked, causing a range of acute or chronic medical issues.
- Opiate drugs: Painkillers and heroin are opioids, and their abuse will negatively impact the respiratory system primarily. These drugs slow the heart rate and breathing rate, and they can cause both to stop completely if too much is taken.
- Stimulant drugs: Adderall, a stimulant prescription drug, crystal meth, and cocaine are just a few stimulant substances that significantly increase heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure. Too much can put a great deal of stress on the cardiac system and trigger cardiac arrest or stroke.
- Marijuana: The greatest harm done by excessive marijuana use is on the user’s mental health and respiratory system, if the drug is smoked. Psychotic reactions can prove fatal in some incidences, especially if the user ingests THC via an edible marijuana product.
- Hallucinogens: LSD, mushrooms, peyote, and other hallucinogens primarily impact the mental health of the user and can trigger a psychotic reaction or severe anxiety attack. Depending on the dose and chemical makeup of the particular version of the substance, the drugs can also increase heart rate significantly and trigger cardiac arrest.
- Nicotine: There is not one part of the brain or body that is unscathed by smoking cigarettes. According to SmokeFree.gov, some of these effects include:
- Hearing loss caused by a reduction in oxygen supplied to an organ in the inner ear
- Blindness, night vision, cataracts, and macular degeneration are increased risks
- Oral health problems, including cavities, gum disease, ulcers, and more
- Heart problems including high blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease and heart attacks
- Blocked blood vessels that can lead to problems related to poor circulation, including the need to amputate hands or feet
- Inflamed and scarred lungs that can mean breathing problems, chronic cough, emphysema, and/or respiratory infections
- An increased risk of a range of cancers
- An increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- Decreased fertility
- Harm to unborn fetus
- Early menopause
- Longer time to heal from illness or injury
- Weakened immune system all the time
- Decreased muscle tone, more fat, and more broken bones
- Caffeine: Caffeine in large amounts can be harmful to anyone, but among teens, the risks may be greater and occur when exposed to even smaller amounts. According to Medline Plus, the risks of high caffeine intake include:
- Increased risk of anxiety or depression
- Nausea and vomiting
- Tremors or shakiness
- Rapid heart rate
- Lower absorption of calcium, which can lead to weaker bones
- Nutrient deficiency if the teenager uses caffeinated beverages to replace meals
During the teen years and all the way up until the mid-20s, the human brain is in a dynamic state of constant development. Any use of drugs or alcohol during this period can be deeply damaging to this development, retarding growth on emotional, psychological, and academic levels. Depending upon the drug of choice, the effect of getting high or drinking will impact the brain differently. In general, however, because substances are chemicals, they impact how the brain functions. They increase certain communication signals or decrease them, or in some way alter how the brain processes information.
For example, if your teen takes a stimulant drug like crystal meth or cocaine, it can trigger the release of a large amount of dopamine, a naturally occurring “feel good” chemical in the brain – or it can stop the reuptake of dopamine, causing it to build up in the system. This causes the high experienced by drug users, and it’s not a process that works the same every time. This experience is what triggers cravings in the user, and it is the driving force behind compulsive use of drugs and alcohol in addiction. Though, over time, the intensity of the “feel good” response decreases even with larger and larger amounts of the triggering substance, users chase that high and prioritize it above all else.
Over time and with regular use, some substances can actually change the size and structure of the neurons in the brain. This can translate into altered behavior, personality differences, and a range of mental health and/or physical health issues for the user. For example, some people who use opiate drugs like heroin or painkillers for years at high doses say that when they stop using their drug of choice, they have a hard time managing their pain response on their own. That is, injuries are exponentially more painful than they were prior to addiction, and the use of painkillers does little to help them manage their pain because their brains have adapted to high levels of the substance and no longer respond with a pain relief response.
Treatment Therapy Options
There are a number of treatment options that may be beneficial for teens who struggle with substance abuse and/or a mental health problem. Treatment is recommended as soon as the signs of intrusive symptoms are recognized – the earlier treatment is sought, the more effective it will be.
Substance Abuse Treatment OptionsIf your teen is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse in any amount, immediate intervention is recommended. Stopping early can thwart a lifelong problem with abuse and mitigate the harm done to academic and social development. It is important that teens enroll in a teen-specific drug rehab program. Exposure to the issues that can characterize adult addiction will not help them to address the issues that are specific to their experience and may be driving their use of drugs and alcohol. Teen-specific drug rehab programs should offer:
- Evaluation and diagnostic services: These are used to identify all issues that may be exacerbating your teen’s substance abuse and help to hone in on what treatments will be most effective.
- Family support: The family plays a huge role in a teenager’s ability to heal during rehab and remain clean and sober for the long-term. Educational workshops, support groups, family therapy sessions, and open communication with the treatment team about the progress of your teen are all necessary.
- Academic support: The therapeutic team should work with your teen’s teachers to create an academic support plan if your teen enters inpatient treatment. Depending upon the time of year, with one-on-one academic support, your teen should be able to make up some of the ground lost during active drug abuse and, in some cases, keep up with peers and stay on grade level.
- Step down process: Teens should begin with a higher level of intensity of treatment – that is, attend an inpatient rehab first or an intensive outpatient treatment program. Over time, as your teen stabilizes in sobriety, therapeutic support should be lessened slowly over time until he or she is living independently in sobriety with weekly aftercare support.
- Aftercare support: For months or years following inpatient rehab or outpatient intensive treatment, aftercare support will help your teen to remain engaged with his or her recovery and to manage stressors as they occur that might otherwise contribute to relapse.
Mental Health Treatment Options
About 50 percent of all lifetime mental health problems begin by the age of 14, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). This means that many teenagers are struggling with mental health symptoms that are more than just the mood swings associated with normal human emotional development, making mental health treatment necessary. For teens, mental health treatment options will almost always include therapy and may or may not include medication. Some common therapies that may be helpful for teens include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Family therapy
- Peer support groups
- Alternative therapies (e.g., art therapy, sports therapy, animal-assisted therapy, etc.)
In some cases, medications may be useful, but many medications (e.g., antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, etc.) that may be appropriate for adults experiencing the same symptoms may not be a good choice for teenagers. For example, certain antidepressants may actually contribute to the experience of suicidal thoughts or behaviors in teens, so their use is often limited and closely monitored when implemented. Work closely with your teen’s doctor to understand the potential pros and cons as you determine which medications are most appropriate.
Treatment for Co-occurring Disorders
It is not uncommon for teens to struggle with both mental health issues and substance abuse problems. In fact, many teens use drugs or alcohol to help them escape the troubling feelings they may be experiencing due to acute issues (e.g., death of a friend or family member, parent’s divorce, a break up, etc.) or chronic issues (e.g., ongoing depression/anxiety or low self-esteem). For this reason, when both mental health symptoms and drug abuse issues arise for your teen, it is important to enroll him or her in a program that can effectively provide treatment for both problems at the same time.
Dual diagnosis treatment, or treatment of a co-occurring substance abuse issue and mental health disorder, should provide your teen with access to the following services:
- Medical detox: In the case of withdrawal symptoms, medical care and supervision may be necessary in the first weeks of recovery.
- Medication assessment: Depending upon the nature and severity of the mental health symptoms, medication may be helpful in stabilization and/or treatment.
- Comprehensive evaluation: In order to fully understand the nature of the mental health symptoms, evaluation and assessment are necessary.
- Range of therapeutic intervention options: A course of treatment that utilizes a range of traditional, alternative, and holistic treatments will be appropriate for a teenager living with co-occurring disorders.
- Family support: Family members will not only need to understand the nature of the substance abuse and mental health problems but also need to know how they can best aid their teen in long-term healing.
- Aftercare support: When mental health treatment exacerbates a substance abuse issue, it makes aftercare support for both issues exceedingly important for health and wellness.
Learn more about what your teen needs to thrive, starting with the treatment necessary to overcome substance abuse and/or intrusive mental health symptoms when you contact us at Next Generation Village today. We can help your teen on the road to recovery.Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.