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The teenage years are not always easy for children and their parents. It is a time of rapid physical and emotional change for young people especially when they want to be accepted by their friends and to feel that they fit in. This requires patience and understanding, and it is important that parents support their children through these difficult years.
The word ‘teenager’ is a common term in most western societies but does not exist in many other countries. It usually applies to children from 13-19 years when they are making the transition to adulthood. Legally, when someone reaches 18 years of age in Australia, they are considered an adult.
Most young people want to be accepted by their friends and to feel that they fit in. This can often cause parents to feel that their teenagers’ relationships with their friends have become more important to them than those of their family. This can sometimes cause tension in the family and affect open communication between parents and teenagers.
Decisions around schooling, further education and career choices must also be addressed during the teenage years.
Many young people from new and emerging communities may have to deal with racism and discrimination in the broader community which can also affect their confidence, sense of belonging and emotional wellbeing.
All teenagers need to feel good about who they are and to develop confidence.
Just like younger children, teenagers need to have their efforts and achievements recognised and praised and they need to feel valued by their parents, teachers, friends and those around them.
They also need to feel respected and listened to, so the ability to communicate openly with parents is very important. Your teenager may not tell you everything but it is important for them to be able to share their concerns, fears, day to day experiences, and aspirations with you. No matter how busy you are, take an active interest in your teenager’s life and ask them about their views and experiences without being critical or judgmental.
Good eating habits
Takeaway food and eating out have become common in today’s rapidly changing and busy society. With both parents working in many families, these foods provide a quick and easy alternative to meals prepared in the home. In moderation, once or twice a week, takeaway foods are not a major problem. Eating too much of these foods can seriously affect the health of your teenager.
There are no simple solutions to improving your teenager’s diet. It can be very difficult for parents to convince their children of the benefits of healthier eating when they are competing with the powerful messages of food advertising and peer pressure.
Teenagers also want to make their own decisions about what they wear, what they watch (video games, movies etc) and who their friends are. This extends to what they like to eat so parents cannot always have as much influence as they would like.
Some tips for parents:
- Set a good example for your teenager. They will be more likely to eat healthy foods and avoid alcohol and smoking if that is what you do.
- Make sure healthy foods are included in your teenager’s diet whether you are cooking a meal at home or eating out. If eating out or buying takeaway, encourage healthier choices.
- Encourage your teenager to help prepare meals and develop their confidence and skills in this area.
- Provide a wide choice of foods from all the food groups:
- breads and cereals
- fruits and vegetables
- dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt
- lean meats
- nuts and legumes (eg chic peas, kidney beans, lentils).
- Teenagers love to snack so shop for a range of healthy foods to have in your food cupboard and fridge.
- If your teenagers enjoy fizzy drinks, buy them only occasionally as a special treat. Water and milk are healthier alternatives.
- Encourage your teenagers not to miss meals. A healthy breakfast is the most important meal of the day and assists concentration at school or work.
- Personal appearance is very important during the teenage years and many teenagers are influenced by media images of ‘beauty’. Unnecessary or excessive dieting and weight loss is unhealthy and can result in serious health problems. Teenagers are less likely to indulge in harmful diets or exercise if they feel good about themselves.
- The key to good health for teenagers and all family members is to combine healthy eating with regular physical activity. Encourage and support your teenager to participate in school sports and other active recreation.
Legal and illegal drugs
Parents worry about their children taking illegal drugs but it is often the legal drugs such as alcohol, cigarettes and prescribed medicines which are the easiest to get and can do the most harm.
In Australia, it is against the law to sell alcohol or cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18 years. It is also against the law for any young person under 18 to drink alcohol in any public place unless they are with a parent or guardian. It is not an offence to give children alcohol at home but adults should take a responsible approach.
If young people are caught by the police possessing and/or using illegal drugs, different consequences may apply depending on the situation. These can range from being cautioned to being charged with an offence and having to appear before the Youth Court.
There is no easy way to tell if your teenager is taking drugs. Sometimes a sudden change in their behaviour can be a sign that something is wrong. They may become withdrawn, moody, or angry. There may be a drop in their school work or an unexplained change in their choice of friends. There may also be changes in their physical appearance and they may lack energy or feel tired all the time. However, these symptoms can also be caused by illness, problems at school or other things, so do not think the worst.
Talk to your teenager about your concerns but avoid getting angry or being critical of them. This will not help the situation and may make it worse. Seek advice from the services listed at the back of this guide and remember that even if your teenager is using drugs this does not mean that they are addicted. Many young people experiment with drugs but not all become regular users and only a small number develop serious problems.
There are many things that can impact on a young person’s emotional wellbeing. These include parents’ expectations, pressure from friends, feeling that they don’t fit in, and school pressures. For young people from new and emerging communities there are added pressures related to their settlement and adjustment to life in Australia.
Teenagers experience many different emotions and moods and parents are sometimes uncertain about what they should do. It is important to remember that most young people experience changes in their mood or times of ‘feeling down’ and that this is not uncommon. However, feeling depressed most of the time for prolonged periods of time is not normal and requires attention. Being in a depressed mood is different from major depression which is an illness with more severe symptoms. This more serious form of depression may be triggered by a major stressful event such as a death or the breakdown of the family but it may also have no obvious cause.
If you’re concerned about your teenager’s emotional wellbeing or if you think they are showing symptoms of depression, talk to your family doctor or seek advice from a qualified professional.
The issue of teenage sexuality is a very difficult one for most parents. It is natural for parents to feel concerned about how their children will handle or be affected by sexual matters.
Parents may feel reluctant to discuss these matters with their teenagers because they feel embarrassed, consider it inappropriate, or do not know how their teenagers will react.
It is important that parents and children obtain correct information and advice. Sex education is taught in many schools and parents are usually informed by the school if their child is taking part in such sessions. There are also services that can assist you in becoming more informed as a parent so that you can support and advise your child. Some of these services are listed in this guide.
Female genital mutilation
Female circumcision is against the law in Australia and not condoned on any level. You can contact the SA Female Genital Mutilation Program for more information – see service details in this guide.