By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
In addition to the normal issues teenagers face, the pandemic has added an additional layer of stressors and pressure. Area experts weighed in on what they believe are the top issues of young people.
1. Eating habits.
“It’s horrible how they eat,” said Michelle Dougan, personal trainer at Elevate Fitness in Liverpool. “Natural foods are where it’s at: fruits and vegetables, lean protein and whole foods, not boxed and fried foods. Pizza is fine if you make it but don’t get it at Domino’s.”
2. Activity level.
“Fitness is very important, but teens have to find something that they like. I have four children. Two of them love to work out. The two that like to work out: awesome. For the other two, I encourage them to find a sport or activity they will do for a half hour a day. It would change everything if teens would do this. They have to get moving and get off their phones. I know that is where things have gone since the pandemic, but they need to get moving and do something they like, even like walking or tennis or basketball.”
3. Regular check-ups.
“I do educate families that they should have regular visits to their dentist’s and doctors office,” said Chakrapani Irri, pediatrician with Children’s Health Specialists in Auburn. “If they have concerns about vision, they should see an optician. If they do not do that, their schooling will suffer. They need to feel well and see well to do well in school.”
4. Sufficient sleep.
“If they have a good nine hours’ sleep, they can focus better,” Irri said. “They will learn better at school and feel healthier.”
5. Limited screen time.
“Two hours’ screen time is maximum,” Irri said. “Now with Zoom classes and remote learning, they may need more computer time, but this two-hour limit is games, computer time and television.”
6. Hydrating with water.
“Try to drink more water and little milk and little fruit juice,” Irri said. “Most kids do not drink enough water and want fizzy drinks and energy drinks. They need water. Cut fruits up and put them in a jug with water in the fridge. Throughout the day, they have some flavor from a natural fruit. Prepare a new jug each day.”
7. Sufficient down time.
“They should balance schoolwork with other things,” Irri said.
8. Mental health.
“We are in an adolescent mental health crisis that was percolating prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but has worsened significantly since 2020,” said physician Karen Teelin, associate professor of pediatrics and director of adolescent medicine at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital. “Suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 24 years old.”
9. Eating disorders.
“Rates of eating disorders have also increased dramatically. These are serious, potentially life-threatening disorders that affect the physical and psychological development of adolescents,” Teelin said.
“Bullying can harm a youth’s physical and emotional health,” Teelin said. “It is associated with depression, suicide, poor school performance and/or attendance and substance use. It’s important for parents and guardians to guide their children so that they are neither the perpetrator nor the victim of bullying. Parents can help youth build coping skills to deal with challenging situations and can model positive behavior toward others.
“It’s important for youth to feel they have at least one adult in their lives that they can trust with their problems. This could be a parent, another family member, a teacher, a clergy member, a therapist, a pediatrician, or someone else. Parents can stay in touch with their child by asking how things are going at school, whether any kids get picked on, and whether they have seen any mean comments online. It’s important to keep open lines of communication. For youth who are neither bullied nor perpetrators of bullying, we can help them learn to stop bullying by not giving it an audience, walking away, helping the victim and telling a trusted adult. The American Academy of Pediatrics has an excellent publication called ‘Bullying: It’s Not OK’ that can be found online.”