Girls go through countless changes during the teenage years. And while changes in girls are different than those experienced by boys, all of these changes are a natural part of development into an adult. To help make the process easier, see the next page for tips on parenting teenage girls.
Girls are twice as likely as boys to be depressed and nearly twice as likely as boys to consider suicide. But signs of depression in teens are often not obvious. So be on the lookout for:
- sadness that lasts for longer than two weeks
- persistent tearfulness, crying
- decreased interest in activities
- persistent boredom
- social isolation
- low self esteem and guilt
- increased irritability
- difficulty with relationships
- frequent complaints headaches and stomachaches
- thoughts or expressions of suicide or self destructive behavior.
If your daughter has one or more of these symptoms and you suspect she might be depressed, talk to a health care professional as soon as possible.
Girls grow faster during adolescence than at any other time in their lives save infancy. That requires a mountain of vitamins and minerals best found in food, totaling an average of 2,200 calories a day. But all too often teenage-girls don't eat a balanced diet and don't get the nutrients they need. For instance, they often don't get enough calcium, which can lead to osteoporosis, or iron, which can lead to anemia.
Refocus your teen's diet to include at least five servings of fruits and vegetables and three, eight-ounce glasses of milk a day. Keep nutritional snacks like cut up fruit, pretzels, cheese sticks, individual yogurts and butter-free popcorn, on hand. Don't bring soft drinks into the house. Set a good example by eating nutritiously yourself at home or while dining out.
Life-long exercise habits are formed in adolescence, so it's important that parents encourage their teens to be active. That means some form of activity every day, with more vigorous activity (resulting in a sustained increased heart rate) at least 20 minutes a day three days per week. Whether it's on organized teams or through individual sports or exercise programs, the main message should be to get out and move. For instance, parents should encourage their daughters' interest in challenging activities, such as rock climbing, cycling, skiing or snowboarding. Try and make exercise a family affair. Go for a bike ride or hit the trails together. Give your teenager a pedometer and challenge her to collect at least 11,000 to 12,000 steps a day (the amount recommended for adolescents). Once she hits that figure, challenge her to more.
Some experts suggest that a child planning on getting a tattoo or body piercing is a warning sign of a child on the brink of trouble. If you hear that your daughter is considering body art, make sure she understands the potential risks: infections, scar tissue and draining wounds for piercings; and allergic reactions or diseases such as hepatitis and AIDS from instruments used for tattoos. Even the trendy temporary henna tattoos can result in months of pain and discomfort, and a lifelong allergy to a common chemical found in the dyes. Tongue piercing can cause swelling that closes off the airway; choking risks from loose jewelry; uncontrollable bleeding and nerve damage; or chipped or cracked teeth. If you do this, make sure the procedure is performed with sterile equipment by a certified professional whose shop is clean, much like a medical facility.
Remind your teen about the basics of protecting her skin from the sun. If she's in the sun, she should slather on at least two tablespoons of sunscreen at least every two hours. Encourage her to cover up with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with ultraviolet (UV) light protection. And if she's prone to freckles, sunburns easily or has light-colored hair or eyes, urge her to keep sun exposure at a minimum and have a health care professional examine her skin regularly. Between visits, she should examine her own skin for signs of any mole that's changed size or shape.
Your daughter isn't just trying to get out of gym class — it's common for teenage girls to have unusually severe cramps and heavy periods. Don't just write an excuse note, however. Take her to see a medical professional. If there's nothing medically wrong, your doctor or nurse practitioner can prescribe ibuprofen for the pain, or even oral contraceptives to help with cramping and heavy blood flow. Although girls generally begin menstruating between ages eight and 13, if they're not menstruating by 16, see a health professional. Also check with your health care specialist if your daughter has very heavy periods. Heavy bleeding could result in anemia, or indicate a clotting disorder like Willebrand's disease.
As The Who would have said, the kids are all right. See the results of a survey on teen behavior at HowStuffWorks.