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Teen Health 411
Teen Health 411

Dear Ms. President

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Congratulations on your election. While you are waiting to take office on 1.20.09 I would appreciate you thinking about how you plan to help teenagers in the United States be healthier, happier, and more successful. While you are thinking about them, please remember that there are parents who love those teens, feel responsible for them, and are trying to give them the skills they will need to be successful adults.

To be healthy in our world today, teens face some serious obstacles. The success of our country has opened up the world of opportunity to some youth, but in many cases we cannot guarantee their basic needs. More and more youth are experiencing eating disorders, depression, anxiety and trouble maintaining a positive self-esteem. They need preventive health care, immunizations, nutritious meals, plenty of sleep, health education that includes wellness, safe & effective schools, healthy communities, exercise, non-toxic water, air and food, opportunities to serve others, meaningful work, and to have fun. Teens also need access to health care, providers they trust and see on a regular basis, as well as communication skills to avoid abusive relationships.

All the while they are exposed to an average of eight hours a day of media that portrays success as possible only for thin, white, wealthy, heterosexual, well-educated, but not outspoken, alcohol drinking, drug-using, smoking, sexual people, leaving about 99% of "real" teens striving to attain impossible realities. On top of all that, they are constantly vulnerable to a level of peer pressure and scrutiny never experienced by any previous generation.

Parents worry about providing enough stability, teaching values, educational attainment, health, risk, driving, college, sexuality, and employment, all the while striving to make ends meet among rising prices of health care, housing, food, gas, automobiles, clothing, and entertainment. We struggle with our own priorities, balancing work, family and personal life without role models and proven approaches to parenting. Research tells us that the way to protect our children is to know where they are and who they are with, monitor their Internet use, share meals as a family, provide teens with music, community service and sports-related activities after school, along with plenty of unstructured time with us, extended family and other adults.

Ms. President, even those of us blessed with resources, good jobs, insurance, great community schools and libraries, homes, cars, and a support system are struggling to raise our teens. We need affordable housing, health care, education, transportation, and a sense of connection to other parents. We need to believe that the sacrifices we make for our children will help them grow and mature into successful adults who can be financially secure and happy.

Can you help teens or parents feel secure about the health and future of our families? We are here for you, and understand the stress of your job, but would really appreciate anything you can do to help us. Good luck!

Photo Credit: katmere
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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.

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