Archive for February, 2012

Depression in Teens May Be Hard to Spot

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Teenagers have a tough time. They’re dealing with raging hormones plus the social and emotional pressures of growing up. Many juggle the demands of school, a job, and outside activities. On top of that, they often don’t get the sleep they need. It’s no wonder they are sometimes grouchy.

But what seems like a bad mood may actually be depression. It affects about 1 out of 5 teens sometime during adolescence. Girls are twice as likely as boys to be diagnosed with depression. Children of military families and those with sexual identity issues are at high risk.

Parents expect teenagers to be moody, tired, or difficult at times. As a result, depression in teens often goes unnoticed. If it’s not treated, depression can undercut a young person’s self-esteem and lead to destructive behaviors, such as drug abuse and suicide.

Most teens aren’t able to step back and realize what’s happening to their emotions. So it’s up to parents or other concerned adults to help them get the treatment they need to feel better.

What causes depression in teens?
Depression is a serious medical illness that has many possible causes. Teens with a family history of mood disorders are at increased risk for depression. In others, chemical changes in the brain may be triggered by a stressful event such as a death in the family, sexual abuse, or bullying. In some cases it may not be clear why depression occurred.

Regardless of the cause, depression needs treatment. Some teens may gradually get better on their own. But 4 out of 10 teens will have another episode of depression within 2 years.

How can I tell if my teen is depressed?
It can be tough to know if a teen’s behavior is normal moodiness or a sign of depression. Important clues a parent can look for include:

•Irritable or angry mood. You may think a depressed person should seem sad, but depressed teens are more likely to be grumpy or hostile or have angry outbursts.
•Unexplained aches and pains. A teen who is depressed may go to the school nurse more often or complain of vague problems such as stomach ache and headache.
•Self-criticism. Depressed teens may be consumed with feelings of worthlessness, rejection, and failure.
•Drop in school performance. Depression may cause a lack of motivation or organization that results in lower grades.
•Risky behaviors. Depressed teens may engage in unsafe sex, stealing, fighting, reckless driving, or substance use. Self-injury such as cutting, scratching, burning, or excessive piercing or tattooing may be a sign a teen needs help.
If you are concerned, take your child to see a doctor. A complete physical exam can help rule out other conditions that could be causing the problems. In general, a doctor may diagnose depression if a teen acts grumpy or depressed for at least 2 weeks and has four or more of the following symptoms:

•Sleep problems (usually sleeping too much)
•Loss of interest in activities he or she used to enjoy
•Loss of interest in friends
•Change in appetite or weight
•Lack of energy
•Trouble concentrating or making decisions
•Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
•Acting restless or sluggish
•Thoughts of death or suicide
Suicide is a very real risk in depressed teens. Take seriously any talk of suicide or wanting to die. Call 9-1-1 right away if you think a teen might try to harm himself or herself or others.

How is it treated?
The main treatments for teens with depression are:

•Antidepressant medication. A medication called fluoxetine (Prozac) seems to help adolescents with depression.
•Psychotherapy. A type of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy is often used. This type of therapy challenges negative thought patterns. It can help a teen develop a better outlook and greater sense of self-worth.
Using both medication and psychotherapy often achieves better results than using either treatment alone.

Antidepressants can have side effects. Be sure you understand the risks and benefits of these medications before your child starts them.

Note: Anyone being treated with antidepressants should be watched closely for worsening depression and increased suicidal thinking or behavior. Close watching may be especially important early in treatment or when the dose is changed. Discuss any concerns with your doctor.

Antidepressants should be continued for as long as the doctor recommends. Then the dose needs to be slowly tapered off. Quitting suddenly can have serious effects.

How can I help my teen?

•Learn about depression. Explain to your teen that depression is an illness, and like other illnesses, it needs to be treated. Help the family understand what your teen is going through.
•Be patient and supportive. Understand that it will take some time for treatment to work.
•Encourage your teen to be physically active. Exercise can help fight off depression.
•Urge your child to get out and see friends. Spending too much time alone is not good for emotional health.
•Help your teen follow through on treatment. Be sure he or she gets to therapy sessions and takes medicine as prescribed.
•Keep an eye on your teen’s mood. Call the doctor if depression seems to be getting worse instead of better.

Easing Your Child’s Fear of Needles

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Does your child scream at the sight of needles?Tell you he’d rather have the flu than a shot to prevent it? You’re not sure who is dreading this next back-to-school booster more – you, who will have to help hold your son, or him.

An article in the journal Pediatrics suggests that parents can ease a child’s anxiety about shots or getting blood drawn through the art of distraction. Ploys like blowing bubbles or singing with your child can do the trick.

The authors stress, though, that parents should not be too understanding if a child makes a fuss. Otherwise, the attention can increase the child’s fears about what’s to come. Parents need to be supportive but matter-of-fact about the shot. No apologies.

Explain to children that immunizations are a fact of life – that it’s okay to feel a little scared, but taking care of their health is part of growing up.

Before the appointment

Wait till the day of the appointment to tell your child about the shot ¿ an hour before if you can. That way, your child can prepare, but won’t have time to worry.

Even babies can sense a parent’s emotions. If children pick up on anxiety, they will grow nervous, too. If you aren’t relaxed, ask a calm grandparent or spouse to be with the child during the shot. Above all, reassure your child that he or she will not be alone.

Other tips:

•Explain how vaccines protect children and why some medicines have to be given this way.
•If several shots are needed, ask your doctor if a combination vaccine is available.
•Don’t say the shot won’t hurt. Stress that the prick will only last a moment.
•Give children choices so they feel in control. Which arm do they want the shot in? Do they want big brother there?
•Plan something fun after the appointment, like ice cream or a movie. Nursing can comfort an infant.
“Don’t look”

Distracting your child starts in the waiting room. Read a book out loud or have your child bring a hand-held video game or headset for music.

When it’s time for the shot, roll up your child’s sleeve, stroke him or her, and try these other diversions.

For infants:

•Bring a pacifier.
•Comfort, hug, and talk to your baby.
•Pull out a favorite stuffed animal or blanket.
For young children:

•Blow soap bubbles.
•Look at a picture book.
•Sing a song together.
For older children:

•Have a few jokes ready to share.
•Tell the child to squeeze your hand according to how much the shot hurts (which may prevent crying).
•Have your child breathe in deeply through the nose and out through the mouth “to blow away pain.”
Don’t tolerate kicking or screaming. For children who get very upset, your doctor may be able to prescribe a cream or cooling spray to apply an hour before the shot to numb the skin. Placing an ice pack on the injection site minutes before the shot can also lessen the sting. Ask your doctor’s advice about giving your child a non-aspirin pain reliever when you get home.

When the injection is over, praise your child even if he or she cried. Then, count your lucky days before the next vaccine is due

Making Sense of Sunscreen

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Sunscreens promise protection from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, which can cause sunburn and skin cancer. But how effective are they?

Studies have proven that sunscreen lowers the incidence of skin cancer. But sunscreen doesn’t give complete protection, and using it doesn’t mean you can sit in the sun for long periods without damage.

To protect yourself, it helps to know more about UV rays and sunscreens.

Sun facts
Sunlight contains two types of ultraviolet rays that can reach the earth and cause skin damage: ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB).

•UVA rays account for the bulk of our sun exposure, and cause most aging of the skin. They are also linked to some skin cancers.
•UVB rays directly damage the DNA of the skin cells. They cause most sunburns and are thought to cause most skin cancers.
What is most important to know is that there are no “safe” UV rays. Both types can cause skin cancer, including melanoma, the most deadly form.

Selecting the right sunscreen
The goal of a sunscreen is to protect the skin from both types of UV rays. When sorting through your choices at the drugstore, focus on the SPF (sun protection factor) number on the labels. Experts recommend using sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.

SPF is an indicator of how well the sunscreen protects against UVB rays. For example, with an SPF 15 sunscreen, you get about 1 minute of UVB rays for each 15 minutes you spend in the sun. An hour in the sun wearing SPF 15 sunscreen gives you about the same UVB exposure as 4 minutes without sunscreen.

A good sunscreen should protect against both types of UV rays. Make sure the label says “broad-spectrum” or that it provides both UVA and UVB protection. To provide broad-spectrum protection, most sunscreens will include some of the following:

•Chemical ingredients: These absorb both UVA and UVB radiation. These may include avobenzone, or benzophenones. Some, especially benzophenones, can cause skin reactions.
•Physical ingredients: These can physically block and reflect away both types of UV radiation. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are two of the more common physical compounds found in sunscreens. These are less likely to cause allergic skin reactions than some chemical ingredients.
It’s important to remember that no sunscreen provides complete protection. Even if you don’t burn, too much time in the sun can still damage and age the skin and increase your risk of skin cancer.

Many moisturizers and other cosmetic products have an SPF. These products may be fine if you only spend a few minutes in the sun each day. But if you work or play outdoors, you need a stronger, water-resistant sunscreen.

How to use sunscreen
To fend off the sun’s damaging rays:

•Use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Apply it at least 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure to give it time to bind to your skin.
•Apply sunscreen generously. You should use about 1 ounce (a palmful) each time you apply it. Coat all skin not covered by clothing. Don’t miss easy-to-forget areas, such as tops of the feet and the ears.
•Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours when outdoors and after swimming, sweating heavily, and toweling off.
•Use sunscreen every day. UV rays reach the earth even on cloudy days and during the winter, and UVA rays can pass through glass.
•Don’t rely on sunscreen alone to protect your skin. Cover up when outside. Wear a brimmed hat, UV-protection sunglasses, lip balm with sunscreen, and a long-sleeved shirt, pants, or a skirt.
Children need extra attention because they often spend a lot of time in the sun and their delicate skin can burn easily.

•Don’t use sunscreen on children younger than 6 months. Babies should be kept out of the sun and covered or shaded when they’re outside.
•Protect children older than 6 months by using sunscreen, dressing them in protective clothes, and urging them to play in the shade. As with everyone, it is important for them to avoid sun exposure at the peak of intensity, between 10 am and 4 pm.

Helping Your Teen Get Ready for High School

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

As your child starts high school, getting from science class to the gym won’t be his or her only challenge. In fact, soon-to-be high school freshmen may have a ton of concerns. For example:

•Will they be in classes with friends?
•Will they have trouble finding their way around the school?
•Will classes be too hard?
•What if they don’t fit in or can’t make new friends?
Fear of the unknown can cause stress and take your child’s focus away from the positive experiences high school has to offer. Here are ways you can help your child take that big step.

Preparing for high school
By helping your child prepare, you can help ensure that the first day of high school is a positive experience.

•Be enthusiastic. Focus on all the fun things there are to do in high school, such as sports and activities that your child wants to try.
•Attend freshman orientation. Your child, no doubt, has a lot of worries about what the first day will be like. Finding the homeroom ahead of time, learning where classes will be and comparing schedules with friends can help your child relieve many of those worries.
•Help choose courses. Ask your child what elective classes seem interesting and help choose the ones that will help develop a skill or advance your child academically.
•Instill confidence. Talk with your child about all his or her positive qualities and talents. Help your child know that he or she has a lot to offer the school and shouldn’t simply blend into the background.
•Encourage a healthy sleep schedule. As summer winds down, encourage your child to start going to bed earlier each night and waking up earlier in the morning. Kids should try to get at least nine hours of sleep each night.
•Let your child choose his or her own wardrobe. There’s no need to spend a fortune, but help your child feel he or she will fit in by letting your child choose clothes that are in fashion.
Continuing support once high school starts
Once your freshman has a few days under his or her belt, chances are getting from one class to another or finding the cafeteria will be no problem. But for a successful school year, your child will need more than a school map. Offer these pointers for long-term success:

•Help your child have realistic expectations. It’s rare for a young teenager to be an instant high-school success. Tell your high school freshman not to try to do too much too soon so he or she does not feel unnecessary pressure.
•Explain the importance of attendance and involvement. Let your child know how being absent can affect grades, and that engaging in school activities will help him or her feel involved and make new friends.
•Encourage good study habits. Explain that high school teachers might expect more than eighth-grade teachers did. Help your child learn how to stay organized, and find a quiet place where he or she can study without distractions.
•Talk about friends. Encourage your child to gravitate towards those who share his or her interests and values. And encourage your child to choose his or her friends rather than waiting to be chosen.
•Help your child learn how to manage time. Have conversations with your child about balancing homework, extracurricular activities and downtime. Don’t let your child get overbooked. Suggest he or she choose one or two extracurricular activities instead of four or five. And make sure your child has time just to relax.
•Reassure your child that help is always available. If your child is struggling with a class, he or she might benefit from an after school homework club. Some schools even offer tutoring by members of the National Honor Society. If he or she is being bullied, a guidance counselor can help. Reassure your child that counselors are trained to resolve such conflicts.
Depression in ninth-graders
Research shows that ninth-graders are more prone to depression than their eighth-grade counterparts. They are also more likely to drop out or be retained in their freshman year than in the upper grades.

If you see signs of depression, have your child talk to a school counselor or a mental health professional. Symptoms include:

•Trouble sleeping
•Changes in eating habits
•Crying
•Headaches and stomachaches
•School avoidance
•Lack of interest in activities he or she once enjoyed
Finally, let your child know that he or she is not alone. Most of your child’s classmates are facing the exact same challenges. As your child learns his or her way around, makes new friends and gets to know the teachers, school will likely start feeling like a familiar and comfortable place.

Easing the Backpack Burden

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Now that the school year is underway, be sure to lift your child’s backpack regularly to see how much weight he or she is toting. Experts recommend that a backpack should weigh less than 20% of a child’s overall weight. Here are some smart tips for minimizing the backpack burden on young, growing bodies.

Ease the Backpack Burden

•Go Wide: Avoid narrow shoulder straps, which can dig into shoulders.
•Balance Out: Make sure your child uses both shoulder straps. Throwing a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles.
•Shelve It: Suggest that your child leave heavy books in his or her locker instead of carrying them all day.
•Roll It: For students with heavy loads, rolling backpacks are a good option, if your school permits.
Editor’s Note: If your child or teen has any back pain, consult your family doctor.