Help Your Kids Stay Safe While Approaching Adulthood

These days, kids seem to be growing up faster than ever. They go from children to almost-teenagers, seemingly overnight. And as children approach adulthood, parents are faced with many new challenges. Here are some tips for dealing with tricky topics that might come up with your tween or teen, and ways to keep them safe.

Peer Pressure

Building strong friendships is key to a child's development, but sometimes other children can influence your child in ways you're not comfortable with. Other children may try and pressure your child to experiment with drugs or alcohol, cheat at school or bully other kids. Talk with your child often about being confident and not following the crowd. If your children feel they can talk to you without harsh punishment or judgment, they will likely seek your advice.

Friendships are important to a teen's development.

Offer these tips to your kids for standing up to peer pressure:

  • Use humor to say no. If he or she laughs off the idea of skipping school, for example, the other child might realize it's a silly idea.
  • Be direct. If your child seems unsure, the other kids are more likely to keep pressuring. If he or she is firm the first time, the other child is likelier to back off.
  • Offer an alternative. If your teen is being pressured to go to a wild party, maybe he or she can offer to host a fun movie night instead.

Dating

Teenagers explore relationships, intimacy, and their own identity through dating. Unhealthy dating in which your children are pressured, belittled, or abused may impact their emotional and physical health, as well as set them up to have more difficulties in their adult relationships. Some studies show that as many as 25% of teenagers experience physical, psychological or sexual abuse in a dating relationship. You can encourage safe and healthy dating by doing the following:

  • Talk to your children. Have a discussion about the purpose of dating, what they should do on dates, and what they can realistically expect from a boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • Relieve the pressure. Let your children know that dating is a personal decision and they shouldn’t date, or date particular people, because of peer pressure. Encourage them to date for the right reasons and not because of a need to belong, to keep up with friends, or avoid hurting someone’s feelings.
  • Help them lighten up. Studies indicated that many teens take dating too seriously and consequently tolerate treatment that they shouldn’t. Help your children understand that dating is about meeting people and that breaking up is not a sign of failure.
  • Set parameters. Don’t allow your children to date too young and insist that they date people their own age. Encourage them to dress conservatively when going on a date. Have them decide before they start dating what their boundaries will be for who they will date, what they will do, and how they will allow themselves to be treated.
  • Make plans. Make sure your children have dates planned out before they go. They should also have a contingency plan (like calling you) if a date goes awry.

Online Safety

Keep your kids safe online.

Online safety is a huge issue for today's parents. The Internet can be a great tool for schoolwork and learning, and may even be positive when used for socializing. But there are many dangers on the Internet as well. Here are some ways to keep your kids safe as they explore the Web:

  • Place the computer in a family room, and limit its use when you are asleep or not home.
  • Teach your children "netiquette" and that they should never tease or bully someone online.
  • Stress the importance of privacy online. Kids should never use their real name, or give out their address, age, school or family members' names online. They should also never meet anyone who they've met online in person without parental supervision.
  • Consider installing parental control software to keep them from viewing inappropriate sites.
  • If your children want to use a social networking site, ask to be their "friend." That way, you will be able to keep tabs on their activity. Remind them that the Internet is forever and they could hurt their chances of landing a good job or getting into college based on what they post online.

Driving

One of the adult responsibilities teens often look forward to is the day they start driving. But your child's driver's education shouldn't stop after getting his or her license. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 cause of death of teens, and teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely to crash than older drivers per mile driven.

Many states offer graduated driver's licenses, which put limits on the hours teens can drive and the number of passengers they can have in the car.

But even if your teen has a graduated license, you still want to ensure he or she isn't participating in risky behavior like texting or talking on the phone while driving, drinking and driving, or speeding. One way to do this is to draw up a parent/teen driving contract, which includes the rules you expect your teen to follow. You can find examples when you search for "teen driving contract" at www.cdc.gov.

Eating Disorders

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 95% of people with eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25. Eating disorders affect girls more often than boys (although boys can be affected as well).

An eating disorder can lead to malnutrition; heart or kidney damage; loss of bone density; hormone imbalance; loss of menses; low blood pressure; and even death.

Some symptoms of an eating disorder include:

  • Refusing to eat.
  • Fear of gaining weight.
  • Distorted self image.
  • Excessive exercise.
  • Preoccupation with dieting and food.

If your child or teen shows signs of an eating disorder, talk to his or her doctor. Eating disorders are a serious illness and parents aren't usually equipped to deal with them on their own.

Getting Through the Teen Years

Raising a teenager is one of the toughest jobs a parent will face. But seeing your child get through the many challenges of the teenage years and coming out on the other side as a confident, well-adjusted adult is one of the greatest rewards. For more information on talking to your child about tough topics, see your heath care provider.


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