During my last post, I outlined the top parental concerns regarding the health and safety of our children’s health. As I previously stated, these are serious and complex problems that must be solved through effective communication, interdisciplinary approaches, education, awareness, and active participation towards common sense solutions. I’m not going to re-address what the problems are; please refer to my previous post. I’d like to focus on what we as a society and as parents can do to help diminish these health and safety issues for our children.
- Obesity– this problem needs to first be addressed in the home. As a parent, you should be sure you are purchasing the healthiest foods for your child. Fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and proteins and foods low in sugar and fats should be what you are buying. Learn to read labels to check for hidden sugars in foods. Work in conjunction with your Pediatrician or a nutritionist to gain education and tips on what foods to buy, how to cook healthy meals, and change your lifestyle as a family. Avoid the processed food aisles. Be aware of correct portion sizes and offer snacks such as nuts as alternatives. Limit your child’s time spent on-line and in the house. Encourage outdoor play to work off energy and excess weight. Start walking with your child daily. Provide activities outside such as a basketball hoop or soccer and footballs to encourage game play and running. If your school is one of those who has cut recess time down, spend some time advocating for its return, or look into after school programs that promote the health and welfare of children that lead to active lifestyles such as running programs that promote fitness and well being.
- Bullying/Internet Safety– the most important relationship here is the one you have with your child. Be sure to talk about bullying and cyber bullying openly. Let them know that you are a trusted advocate and their protector. They should feel comfortable to come to you with any issue. Share stories from your own childhood, or bring up bullying stories in the news. Teach them to be confident in themselves. Make sure if your child has on-line social media accounts that you have a personal account on there as well. Follow them and check for any inappropriate comments made to or about them. Check to make sure they are not interacting with a person who may not be what they seem. Parental intuition comes into play here. If a person doesn’t seem genuine and your child doesn’t know them “personally” you should discourage talking and interactions with strangers over the web. Make sure you know the school’s policy for bullying and that they are doing everything they can to prevent it. Teach your children to stand up for themselves and for others against bullies. Report serious incidents of physical or cyber bullying to authorities. Keep records and screenshots as needed for proof. It is your job to be your child’s advocate. Let them know you have their back.
- Smoking/Drug Use/ Alcohol Abuse– watch for signs your child may be having trouble with these substances. Usually changes in behavior, wide mood swings, anger, and a drop in grades are the subtle signs. Talk to your kids about the dangers of these substances often. Share your own experiences. If you have underage teenagers, it’s a good idea to keep the liquor cabinet and prescription drugs in a locked cabinet to prevent temptation. Let them know they can always come to you, especially if they find themselves in a situation where drugs and alcohol are being used. Have a “code word” that lets your child know they need you to come get them from a bad situation, no questions asked. Open communication is crucial to combating drug and alcohol abuse. Learn about the e-cigarette laws in your state. Be sure you know what e-cigarettes look like and what they are used for.
- Teenage Sexting/Pregnancy-again, this is all about open communication, talking to your children consistently about protection, abstinence and that naked pictures are off limits. Share stories in the news of teens caught in these vulnerable positions. Teach them sex is normal and natural, and nothing to be ashamed of, but involves complex and mature feelings to fully understand what it’s all about. Let them know they can always talk to you, or another trusted adult such as a school counselor or a teacher.
- Stress-this is something we as parents play a big part in. It does your child an extreme disservice to overschedule them with activities. Be sure you allow them free time. Downtime. Everyone needs that to be happy. Perhaps allow them to only take on one sport or activity per season. Encourage good study habits and organization. Encourage them to do their best, but don’t place unnecessary added pressure to “be perfect” in order to “be successful.” This will only increase your child’s stress. Check your school’s policy on homework. Many schools are looking at children’s life balance and adjusting accordingly such as “no homework nights.”
- School Violence-there is no denying that the United States has a serious problem with gun violence and mass shooting occurring at an alarming rate. Society is at odds as to what is the best way to combat this issue; thoughts are thrown around such as gun free zones, arming teachers, increasing mental health care for those with mental illness and tighter gun legislation. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be agreement as to how to counteract this problem. As a parent, the best thing you can do is offer your child reassurance that school is a safe place to be. Teach them about the signs of children who may feel like outcasts. Encourage them if they hear a rumor about the threat of violence, they report it immediately.
Until a common sense consensus is reached in America, vigilance is very important.
These are just a few things you as parents can do to help your child and teen navigate the world today. With all the complex problems out there, making them feel safe, secure and loved is important.
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