Adolescence health changes are very rapid, and tends to startle us sometimes. It is very important to keep a track of it and to understand it.
One of the earliest changes of adolescence is more profuse and stronger-smelling perspiration in the armpits. Some children (and parents, too) are not aware of the odor, which can cause unpopularity with schoolmates. Hygiene now becomes especially important. Daily washing with soap and perhaps the regular use of a suitable deodorant will control the odor.
Our understanding of the cause and treatment of pimples (acne) has changed a lot in recent years. The texture of the skin becomes coarser at puberty. The pores enlarge and secrete up to ten times more oil than previously. Some of the pores may become clogged with a combination of oil (sebum) and dead skin cells. (The skin cells that line the pores naturally die and peel off at regular intervals, to be replaced by new ones).
When this plug of cells and oil comes into contact with the air, it oxidizes and turns black. This is how blackheads form. Bacteria that normally live on the skin may get into these enlarged, plugged pores and cause a pimple, which is a small infection. The same basic process that causes the usual acne pimples can also cause a deeper, scarring type of acne, which tends to run in families.
Two misconceptions abut acne have been cleared up by recent research. We now know that the pimples of acne are not caused by dirt, and we have also learned that certain foods, such as chocolate and fried foods, do no affect this skin condition. Pimples occur as a natural part of puberty in nearly all teenagers, whether they have dry or oily skin. Since squeezing a pimple can make the infection worse, teenagers should be encouraged to avoid doing it.
Some adolescents, worried about sex, imagine that their pimples are caused by sexual fantasies or masturbation. They can be assured that this isn’t true.
Children are entitled to all the help they can get with pimples, from their regular doctor, nurse practitioner, or a skin specialist, for the sake of improving their present appearance and spirits and to prevent the permanent scars that sometimes develop.
With modern methods of treatment, great improvement can be made in most cases, and even the deeper, scarring type of acne can be kept under control. In some cases, a physician or nurse practitioner may prescribe an antibiotic, a topical benzoyl peroxide cream, or a medicine related to vitamin A. prescription treatments are often much more effective than over-the-counter ones.
Whatever the specific methods prescribed, there are also general measures that are believed to be helpful. Vigorous daily exercise, fresh air, and direct sunshine (wearing a suitable sunscreen to avoid sunburn) seem to improve many complexions. And it’s generally a good idea to wash the face with a mild soap or soap substitute and warm water in the morning and again at bedtime.
There are soaps and topical medications that contain 5 to 10 percent benzoyl peroxide that can be purchased without a prescription. And there are many water-based cosmetic preparations (oil-based ones should be avoided) available for covering pimples and blemishes while nature takes it courses. After the hormonal surges of puberty die down, acne normally fades away.
Diet in adolescence
After the age of ten to twelve, it may become increasingly difficult to get children to accept a diet that is different from that of their friends and age-mates. Up to then they usually go along with their parents; ideas, especially if the parents are in agreement.
In fact, they don’t think of such meals as a diet; they are just foods that appear regularly at mealtime. But after they have eaten with friends or at school for a few months, they may want to eat more hamburgers, potato chips, French fries, cheese, and ice cream and other sweet and creamy desserts. Other teens restrict their intakes excessively. It’s helpful to remember that teens who are active and growing quickly can eat huge portions and need every calorie.
If your children wonder what would happen if they broke your dietary rules at school, other children’s homes or restaurants, you can point out that they will be increasingly out of your sight and must decide more things for themselves. And you don’t want to snoop or punish them; you only want to serve them the best possible foods.
Certainly the most powerful influence is for both parents to eat, politely, the thoughtful meals that have been prepared. Don’t hold back on the children’s favorite dishes until they have eaten what you consider the most healthful items—that’s always counterproductive.
There is an important reason why it’s sensible to avoid food arguments during adolescence. This is when rebellion against the parents’ diet is apt to be strongest and when the desire to eat the same foods as classmates and friends is strongest.
Parents and nutritionists who have gone through this phase with adolescent children testify that there is a better chance that the children will revert to their parents’ diet in time if no issue is made of the rebellion. When a long, bitter conflict occurs over diet in adolescence, its pattern is more like to persist—for years.
Along with the adolescent growth spurt comes an increased need for sleep. The average 10-year-old can get by with 8 or 9 hours a night; the average teen may need 9 or 10. Teens also naturally go to bed later and later and want to get up later and later in the morning.
But of course school interferes, forcing them to get up early, even though they stayed up late. A teen who becomes sleepier (or crankier) through the week then tries to catch up by sleeping 14 hours straight on Saturday is not getting enough sleep. In this way, teens are very much like many adults in our too busy society.
The consequences of too little sleep can include poor school performance, irritability with parents and siblings, even symptoms of depression. It can be very difficult to help a busy teen get enough sleep. But one of the main culprits, late night television, is fairly easy to deal with. Just say no. My own feeling is that television has no place in anyone’s bedroom.
With adolescents being as busy as they often are, it may not seem necessary to advise that they get enough exercise. But schools often drop physical education requirements in high school, leading to a decline in physical fitness.
Regular exercise, through competitive sports, dance, martial arts, or other pursuits, helps teens maintain energy, avoid obesity, and perhaps prevent depression. More is not necessarily better, however. Excessive exercise can be a sign of anorexia nervosa.