Dr. Swiner’s Medical Note of the Month-April 2010-Teens, adolescents deserve special treatment

I work with a large population of teenagers and adolescents in my practice, mostly during times of sports and school physicals, but also during illness, birth control, or STD testing and treatments. With this comes great responsibility and challenges because of this age group (11-20.)

group and should be regarded as such. Teens and adolescents are not simply “small adults,” nor are they older children; they’re in their own group.

gone are the days of checking their blood pressure and pulse, heart and lungs, vision and hearing, giving shots and sending them out the door with a signed school form. Nowadays, due to the increase of medical, social and emotional problems of this age group, medical professionals – and, more importantly, parents – must spend more time talking. I choose to add more time to my usual 20-minute visit with my teen and adolescent patients for counseling for many reasons, and this is why.

You might have heard me on the radio or read other articles here discussing my concern for teens and adolescents, particularly in the Triangle and specifically in Durham. Medical issues for teens and adolescents in the area have been a surprise for me as I’ve tried to treat them. These issues include rising rates of Chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV and depression.

Statistics in 2007 for our state note that 70 percent of kids have had sex by the 12th-grade. This is an unfortunate case despite sex education in high schools. Another unfortunate issue is the sex is often unprotected, meaning without a condom. Teen pregnancy continues to be an issue that I deal with in practice despite my repetition of “Abstinence is best but use a condom if having sex.” I say this over and over and over again, but it’s still not enough.

Other statistics in N.C. report that 11 percent to 15 percent of teens and adolescents say they have attempted suicide one or more times by 11th-grade; 30 percent have smoked tobacco by 12th-grade; almost 45 percent by 12th-grade have had alcohol; and the state is ranked ninth in the country for AIDS in all age groups.

The sad conclusion is the ball is being dropped somewhere. I try to yell from the rooftops for young adults to take care of themselves, protect themselves and not form harmful habits, but it’s not enough. It has to be reiterated at school, at home and in the media. The only statistic that has improved somewhat is smoking. With efforts, and likely media such as the Truth commercial campaign, we have been able to decrease the use of tobacco in N.C. The same needs to occur for STDs, violence and mental health.

Speak openly and freely with your young people at home so they feel they have a voice to ask questions, and you can educate them appropriately. Instead of just talking, I got involved.

TeenFest is a group that involves positive teens and adolescents that mentor one another, and share information on preventing violence and encouraging good health practices. They are based mostly in Raleigh and Wake County. Another group to note in Durham is the Adolescent Health Initiative that is dedicated to enhancing the health of adolescents in Durham. There is room for interested adult advocates, parents and teens to become involved. Check them out at teenfest.org anddurhamahi.org, or on Facebook.

References:• 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey• Portrait of Adolescent Health, NC Metamorphosis Project

  1. Nicole Price Swiner, MD, works for the Durham Family Practice in Durham. Contact her at (919) 220-9800.
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