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12-18: Teens

Back-to-school Checkups

Annual visits are an opportunity for either you or your child to ask the pediatrician any questions about your child’s health. Seeing the doctor for checkups is especially vital for adolescents as they go through puberty. These visits can help determine whether your child has any emotional, developmental, or social concerns.

It may be easier for parents to schedule your teenager’s wellness visit in the summer before school starts. If your child needs a physical form filled out for school, summer camp, or sports teams, wellness checkups are the perfect time to do so. The sports physical is a good opportunity to address any exercise-specific health issues. Make sure to bring the form to your teen’s annual wellness exam.

This is also a good time to make sure your teenager’s vaccinations are up-to-date. This includes the Tdap and HPV vaccinations, which should be administered to your child at ages 11-12, as well as the yearly flu shot.

Stay vaccinated! For more information on vaccines, check out our page here.


There is no exact age when everyone experiences puberty. Your child may start hitting puberty between the ages 8 and 18. Girls can expect puberty to hit between the ages 8 and 17, whereas boys can expect puberty to hit between the ages 10 and 18. During puberty, your child’s body will start to change and grow. Physical and mental developments will occur in your child as your child begins to transition into adulthood.

Most of the changes that occur will differ between girls and boys, but there are some changes that will happen for both sexes:

  • Begin to gain weight
  • Grow taller
  • Grow more body hair
  • Speak with a deeper/stronger voice
  • Develop acne
Premature puberty, or precocious puberty, is when children show signs of puberty too early (before age 8 in girls, age 9 in boys). The most common form of precocious puberty is called central precocious puberty (CPP). CPP can have lasting complications beyond childhood, but timely treatment can prevent those complications. If you suspect your child is undergoing premature puberty, speak with your child’s pediatrician to get a diagnosis as soon as possible. For more information on central precocious puberty, check this website.

Diet & Exercise

Eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise is vital to maintaining your teen’s health as he/she is growing and developing rapidly.

As children start their growth spurts during puberty, they will need to eat more in order to get the calories that they need to grow and develop. The number of calories they need will depend on many factors: whether they are male/female, their age, their height and weight, whether they are still growing, and how active they are day-to-day. It is important to find the right balance between too little nutrition and too much nutrition for your child. If the calories consumed exceed those used up, it is easy for a child to develop a weight problem. In fact, about 20% of adolescents ages 12 to 19 years have obesity. Making even small changes in diet can help those struggling with their weight. For more healthy eating tips, check out the MyPlate Daily Checklist, the NIH Body Weight Planner, or BAM! Body and Mind.

Regular exercise is also extremely important during development. Physically active youth have higher levels of fitness, lower body fat, and stronger bones and muscles. Physical activity also helps stimulate the brain, helping to improve cognition and reduce symptoms of depression. Regular exercise during childhood and adolescence can also promote lifelong health, reducing the risk for heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children and adolescents ages 6 to 17 years do 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily.

Make sure your child gets the recommended amount of sleep each night! It is recommended that children 13-18 years old sleep 8-10 hours (including naps) every 24 hours.

Mental Health

Adolescence can be a difficult time for your teenager. As teenagers learn to navigate through the various mental and physical changes that occur during adolescence, they may encounter many pressures and stressors in their environment that can seem overwhelming. The combination of such problems can lead to mental health disorders for some teenagers. Environmental factors that can contribute to mental health issues include: trauma, emotional harm, and substance abuse.

Both environmental and genetic factors can result in the development of mental disorders. If a mental disorder seems to run in your family, the chance of your teenager having the same mental disorder is higher. However, there are no genetic tests to confirm a diagnosis of mental disorder. Additionally, even though a mental disorder may run in a family, there may be considerable differences in the severity of symptoms among family members. Mental disorders do not follow typical patterns of inheritance. If you are worried about your child inheriting any mental disorders, talk to your child's pediatrician.

Red flags parents should watch out for:

  • Excessive sleeping, beyond usual teen fatigue, which could indicate depression or substance abuse
  • Difficulty in sleeping
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Abandonment or loss of interest in favorite pastimes
  • Unexpected and dramatic decline in academic performance
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite, which could indicate an eating disorder
  • Personality shifts and changes, such as aggressiveness and excess anger that are out of character and could indicate psychological, drug, or sexual problems 

If you have concerns about your teen’s mental health, the first thing to do is communicate with your child—fostering these sorts of healthy habits between you and your child is important. If you have further questions, talk to your child's pediatrician.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

Screen Time

As society is becoming more and more reliant on technology, it is important to acknowledge how our lives and health can be affected by all this tech. Studies have found that teens who spend excessive time with screens are twice as likely to have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression. For today’s teenagers, much of their screen use is to check social media. Social media is effective at providing fast communication platforms for teens, but it is also an easy way for teens to be exposed to negative content. According to cyberbullying statistics from the i-SAFE foundation, over half of adolescents have been bullied online, and the same number have engaged in the act of cyberbullying. In these cases, it is up to parents to set a good example of what healthy computer and phone usage in the household. Limit your own screen usage, and teach your children to follow the same rules.

Generally, adolescents and teenagers should try to limit screen time to 2 hours of leisure screen time per day, not counting schoolwork. Through the establishment of clear guidelines for social media usage and specific limits on screen time, your teen will be able to lead a healthier life in this technology-fueled society.

Substance Use

Alcohol is the most widely used and abused drug among youth in the United States. Even though the legal age for drinking is 21, surveys have found that 60% of teenagers have had at least one drink by age 18. Teenagers/young adults ages 12-20 drink 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States. Underage drinking is dangerous in both the short- and long-term. In the short-term, drinking can impair teens’ judgment, leading to injury and possibly death. It also increases the risk of physical and sexual assault: underage youth who drink are more likely to carry out or be the victim of assault. In the long-term, alcohol use starting from a young age can lead to alcohol-dependence, which can manifest itself in many different ways.

Teen vaping is on the rise. Electronic cigarettes are now the most popular tobacco source for teens in the United States due to their appealing flavors and easy-to-hide shapes. From 2017 to 2019, vaping among middle school students has increased by 48%, while vaping among high school students has increased by 78%. E-cigarettes advertise themselves as safer than normal cigarettes, but in reality, there is no long-term safety data about e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes still contain high levels of nicotine, which is an addictive drug that can make kids moody, impulsive, easily distracted, and can hurt their brain development. Exposure to nicotine in youth can also predispose teenagers to addiction to other drugs.

Parents can play a big role in shaping teens’ attitudes toward substance use. Even if your child is not currently using any substance, it is good to talk to them about your expectations about the subject. If you suspect your child is drinking alcohol or abusing another type of drug, sit down and have a discussion with him/her about the dangers associated with substance use. Screening by a pediatrician for drug use can help identify problems early and address them before they escalate.