Monday Medical: Talking to your teens is vital

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Yampa Valley Medical Center presents its monthly free family health program at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the hospital in Conference Room 1. Jamie Lindahl of the Steamboat Springs Women's Clinic will present an "Underground Guide to Talking with Your Teen about Health and Sexuality."

May 7 was National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Although preventing teen pregnancy is important, we do our preteens and teens a disservice if this is our primary focus.

Caring for preteens and teens - whether your own or ones you come in contact with - is so much more than simply talking about "the birds and the bees." There is a highly perpetuated myth that the majority of active parenting occurs during early childhood. The truth is that as your child approaches adolescence, he/she needs you as much as ever.

Accurate information and good communication skills form the foundation of healthy development in adolescence.

Preteens (ages 8 to 12) are in a tumultuous time of their lives. Hormones are crazy, everyone is changing and growing and at times they feel totally out of control. Welcome to puberty!

Kids this age need to know the signs of puberty, the range of timeframes for development, the biology of the reproductive cycle and pregnancy prevention. However important this knowledge is, it is equally important to give our preteens information on roles for young men and women and what specifically constitutes a healthy relationship.

Teenagers (ages 13 to 18) are searching for increased independence and responsibility but usually do not yet possess the necessary skills to obtain a positive outcome. Good communication is a set of tools that are learned at this age, as the teens are taught problem-solving and decision-making techniques.

The more our teenagers learn to take responsibility and be accountable for their choices and behaviors, the better they are able to deal with the stress of peer pressure and be equipped to tackle issues about sex, drugs, alcohol and other potentially dangerous activities.

Basic health care for preteens and teens should include an annual physical exam, routine immunizations and possibly the Gardasil vaccine for girls. This vaccine protects against four major types of human papillomavirus (HPV).

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. More than 50 percent of sexually active men and women are infected with HPV at sometime in their lives. HPV can cause genital warts and cervical cancer (the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women around the world).

Gardasil is approved for use in females 9 to 26 years of age. Once a woman becomes sexually active, sexually transmitted disease testing can be added to the physical exam as needed. When a woman has been sexually active for three years and/or is 21 years of age, a pap smear/pelvic exam also should be done.

Teens want to talk to their parents about sex, alcohol, drugs and other important topics. When you are ready to approach these subjects, do your research beforehand. Have resources available, such as Web sites, hotline numbers and pamphlets.

Create a special time to talk to your teen in a relaxed setting. A good rule of thumb is to ask two open-ended questions for every statement you make. This keeps the conversation going.

Teenagers are fabulous, funny, exasperating and quirky. They deserve our highest level of attention and education to assist in their transition to well-adapted adulthood.

Jamie Lindahl RNC, NP is an OB/GYN nurse practitioner with Steamboat Springs Women's Clinic.

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