Teen Health 411
Teen Health 411

Treating the Whole Person

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The habits we form from childhood make no small difference, but rather they make all the difference. - Aristotle

In education and medicine we struggle to educate and treat the whole person, because it is the whole person walking through a day, a disease, and a life. But what does it mean to take the "whole" person into account? Where do you start if you want to consider a person's intellectual life, relationships, home, job or career, character, parenting, spirituality, leisure activities, happiness, body, and ability to contribute to our society?

Where are the scripts, the behavioral objectives, checklists, and goals? Even if I wanted to, how can I do a "life assessment" on any teen in my life? As a parent, I am finding that even with my own teens, I have to "pick a piece" each day to worry about. Some days I worry about the pressure they feel to "do it all." Other days I worry about their sleep, eating, and exercise patterns, peer relationships, education, spirituality, exercise, and safety habits. But as professionals, aren't we a safety net for the teens we educate or treat? Aren't we somehow more responsible, and held to a higher standard?

I hear the echoes of "give me a break," "no one can do it all," "I am an expert in ____," "that is for someone else to worry about," and "I do not have time," but hey, who does?" If each of us does our "part" in treating the whole person - a doctor makes sure a teen is immunized, the teacher educates the teenager well-enough to get into college, the parents provide the best moral and spiritual base they can, and the community monitors the safety of this imaginary teen at work, who catches them if they fall?

What if a parent is unable to worry about these things? What if a child isn't getting regular medical care and screening? What if a child has no spiritual counseling, and is exposed to violence, or is hopeless and self-destructive? Who is responsible for identifying what is missing and "rescuing" that teen? Who makes sure that the habits they develop in childhood will lead to their happiness and health?

In my way of thinking, "not my department," just isn't in option. Every time we come in contact with a teen, whether it is for 50 minutes in a classroom or 12 minutes in exam room, I think we are morally obligated to look each teenager in the eyes and ask, "how are you?" "who are you?" "what is important to you?" and maybe "what do you think is missing in your life?" Then, we are obligated to follow-up on their answers. Sorry, but sometimes we need a reminder!

Photo credit: Viewoftheworld
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About the Author

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

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