Deeper Look: Common Middle School and High School Health Problems
December 6, 2017
We’ve previously discussed health issues that arise in both elementary school and college. While both of these periods provide plenty to worry about, there is still more than enough to worry about in the in-between phase. Middle school and high school are interesting in that they blend the troubles of an elementary student with those of a college student. There are still germs on their desk, even if they are less susceptible to them now. However, this is the point in the lives of many students where they’ll begin to do things like kiss other students, or worry about a math test.
As we’ll discuss over the course of this article, and as you’ve likely already learned, many of the things that a parent should worry about concern the constant development that a child’s body is going through. From their belly to their brain, middle and high school is a time for change. Often the best thing that can be done is to allow this change to happen naturally, providing a guiding hand when necessary. Of course, you can step in to make sure that your child is looking out for their body and taking the proper steps to prevent illness.
Illness and disease
Much like in elementary school, students in middle and high school are subject to an insane amount of germs throughout the day. Poor ventilation and handsy students leave bacteria lying around everywhere. The common cold, influenza, conjunctivitis, and strep throat are all commonly spread in high schools, especially as we get deep into the winter months. Above many other things we’ll discuss, these illnesses can be prevented.
WebMD published a wonderfully helpful guide on keeping these illnesses at bay Their first piece of advice is one that cannot be skipped: make sure that your child is immunized. If you don’t find yourself going in for routine checkups with your child, you may be in for an unwelcome surprise before the start of the next school year. Immunizations don’t stop when your child moves on from elementary school, and may be important now more than ever. Especially as your child nears sexual activity, in any capacity, shots will protect them and their partner.
You may notice that much of the information provided by WebMD centers around your child’s hands. This is because, as you may know, hands are one of the biggest carriers of germs on the human body. Whether being sneezed or coughed into, wrapped around a borrowed pencil, or rubbing your child’s eyes, your child’s hands may bring home some germs you don’t want. Make sure they know when to wash their hands, and have hand sanitizer available when needed.
Similarly, backpacks are a huge collector of germs and filth. Make sure your child is keeping the inside of their backpack clean, and try to throw it into the laundry when you can. You can also use this as an excuse to keep them stocked up on things they may need throughout the day, such as tissues or the aforementioned hand sanitizer.
Additionally, many health problems can stem from school lunch for two reasons, as Education Week spoke about in 2011. The first of these is a common issue with communal food and eating areas. When children’s mouths are open, there is a significant opportunity for sickness to occur. Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done about this. As long as your child maintains good health habits, the risk is reduced.
What can be offset, however, is the lack of nutrition in school lunches. Lunch is an important meal, even if it isn’t the most important meal of the day. School lunches work to provide students with the nutrition that they require, but often come up short. Consider packing a lunch for your student if this is a concern for you, or make sure that what you’re feeding them at home can offset this.
Furthermore, health issues that may be lying dormant, such as asthma, can become compounded by environment and stress. You should check in often on any health issues that your child may suffer from, as they may be silently worsening.
Obesity and exercise
Related to the school lunch issues, Education Week also tells us that obesity rates amongst adolescents have nearly quadrupled since the 1960s. Of course, obesity is a symptom of a much larger problem, which is malnutrition and inactivity. In the years since the Education Week article was published, schools have taken a great leap to keep students active. However, schools should not be left alone in pursuing your child’s health. If they take place in athletic extracurriculars, you likely don’t have to worry about this. Otherwise, your child may be resistant, but you should urge your child to get out and get some exercise. High schoolers love gaming, and their phones, so consider some apps that gamify exercise. This can also be a great way to bond with them if it’s something that you’re interested in yourself.
The amount of exercise that a child performs may also need to be moderated, though. Despite them looking increasingly like an adult, remember that they are not. Injuries sustained during exercise can hinder muscle development. Additionally, the benefits of exercise are lessened in a growing body. If you are concerned about your students weight, nutrition, or general health, than you should instead look to their diet. Middle and high schoolers are known to snack, but it’s important that these snacks are healthy.
It is also important that children avoid supplements—particularly protein supplements—that affect testosterone or growth hormones. Their hormones are wild enough without supplements, and adding fuel to the fire can lead to developmental issues. You should likely ask them to stay away from supplements entirely—a pill will never be a replacement for a piece of chicken.
Mental health and stress
NPR Education published an article in late August of 2016 which brought to light some alarming statistics on the mental health of high schoolers. According to them, as many as one in five high school students in the United States suffer from mental health issues, specifically depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
Substance abuse is one of the most difficult to handle, as it is likely something learned. Alcohol is rampant at high school parties, and can be abused in many ways other than alcoholism. While it is unlikely that your child is an alcoholic, it is possible that they are using alcohol in an unhealthy way. There is a fine line here between being the overly cool parent and an unknowing one, but it’s important to find that middle ground. You don’t have to—and probably shouldn’t—encourage your child to use alcohol. However, you should discuss alcohol, and possibly other drugs with them, and answer questions they may ask. Be aware of their use. A child who is not properly educated and guided through substance use risks poisoning and overdose.
Depression and anxiety can not be controlled, but are very real issues. Luckily, we live in a world where mental health issues are dealt with much better than they had been before. As we touched on in the deeper look into college students, one of the reasons that the number of students suffering is so high may be because they feel more comfortable admitting the issues they may have. If your child comes to you to tell you that they are going through mental health issues, it is important that you greet them with open arms. Remember that decisions they made, or that you made, did not lead to suffering from a mental disorder, they are often a result of hormonal changes. Depression and anxiety should be treated the same way you would treat a major physical illness. As much as you may think that you know the solution, this problem can not be solved by you alone. If you suspect your child is dealing with mental health issues, look for a professional to help them, even if it’s the school’s guidance counselor.
As NPR discusses, many of these issues can be caught before they get out of hand. Even if you don’t think that your child is suffering from mental health problems, you should make sure that you are aware of what is going on in their life. Craft an environment where your child feels they can be open and honest with you—home should be a relaxing place. If you are able to guide your child through the problems they are currently dealing with, the likelihood of them snowballing lowers significantly.
NPR notes that many families see negative behavior from their children as ‘just a phase.’ This type of thinking needs to be eradicated if you are concerned with your child’s health. Mental health can affect everything from their social development to their grades, and must be maintained as such.
Furthermore, high school students are balls of stress. A 2015 Atlantic article claims that half of all high school students suffer from chronic stress. Stress is good in some ways, but can have it’s downsides. WebMD lists the many issues that can stem from too much stress, which include: exhaustion, headaches, diarrhea, chest pain, and insomnia. This is a natural buildup as college approaches and midterms are coming up. The good news is that stress is much more manageable than other mental health issues. The same advice applies, however. Talk to your child and make sure that they are managing their stress in a positive way.
Sex and pregnancy
A survey performed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 2015 showed that over 41% of high school students had engaged in sexual activity, with 30% of students engaging within 3 months of the survey being performed. Of all the students surveyed, only 10% had ever been tested for HIV. People between the ages of 13 and 24 account for 22% of new HIV diagnoses every year.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention echoed similar sentiments about teen pregnancy. While rates of teen pregnancy have been dropping since 2014, they remain alarming. In 2014, 9.4 billion taxpayer dollars were spent helping teen parents in 2014. Beyond being extremely costly, teen pregnancy can cause many issues in both the life of the pregnant teen and the parent. As I’m sure you know, the complications from pregnancy can be difficult even for adults.
While your child may not be engaging in intercourse, it is important that they be knowledgeable about, and prepared for, sex and its ramifications. They may not have HIV, become pregnant, or impregnate anyone, but you wouldn’t want to risk it, would you? An article published by Cosmopolitan revealed some facts about sex education in the United States that show how these issues were originated. For example, sex education is only a requirement in 22 states. In the states that do, many teach an abstinence only education. In these states, rates of teen pregnancy are significantly higher.
While many teenagers learn about sexually transmitted diseases in schools, very few learn about contraception. 41% of high school graduates admitted to knowing very little about condoms. Many aren’t even aware of where they can get them, or that people under 18 can purchase them. Additionally, only 1 in 20 schools across the United States have made them available, even in areas where they are needed.
Overall, sex education is failing the high school students of today. If you are worried that educating your child may lead them to having more sex, then you may be shocked to learn that a third of sexual education programs actually reduced sexual activity in the students.
Mental health, sexual health, and physical health are all concerns for middle and high school students. Luckily, many of these issues can be avoided simply by having open conversations with your child. If you are worried for them, know when it is time to step away and find a professional to help.