TEENS AND THE HPV VACCINE Many parents aren’t comfortable thinking about the day their children will become sexually active, but reckoning with this normal part of their development and being proactive about their health now can help protect them—and might even save their life down the line. The HPV vaccine prevents some forms of a sexually transmitted infection called human papillomavirus, which can cause genital warts and several forms of cancer. HPV is incredibly common—according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 14 million Americans contract it each year, and almost everyone will have it at some point in their lives. In most cases, the virus is asymptomatic and goes away on its own. However, lasting infections may also be asymptomatic and detectable only with screening. A simple vaccine can stop HPV before it starts. Of the estimated 36,000 cases of cancer each year caused by HPV, 32,000 could have been prevented by the vaccine. It ’s recommended that children of any gender receive the vaccine as young as age 9, though the more common age is 11–12. Children younger than 15 need only two doses, while teens 15 and older and young adults need three doses. The HPV vaccine is safe and effective. Infections of the types of HPV that cause cancer and genital warts have dropped 86 percent in teen girls since the vaccine’s inception, and cervical cancer in vaccinated women has fallen 40 percent, according to the CDC. It may be an awkward topic to bring up, but it ’s in your teen’s best interest to talk to them and their physician about the HPV vaccine.
parents see these behaviors are the symptoms of a parenting conflict, not the root cause.” If you’ve been a little lax in setting boundaries and expectations, it’s time to have a serious conversation and express exactly what you expect from your teen and what they can expect of you. Outline what the child is allowed to do and what you expect in return for their evolving freedom. When it comes to more “adult” behaviors like having sex or drinking alcohol, a simple “just say no” won’t do. Talk about the real- world consequences. For instance, alcohol use can be detrimental to a developing brain and can magnify the danger of other risky behaviors, like driving or engaging in sexual activity. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, alcohol use can also cause memory loss, suppression of the immune system, pancreatitis, alcoholic hepatitis and hormonal deficiencies. Family values also come into play in conversations about sex and substance use, and Mueller says these can both help and
impede a child’s development. Your kids likely already know which activities go against your values; however, their developing brains struggle with foresight and impulse control, so it falls upon parents to stress the potential impact of that instant gratification mindset. You may express your wish that your children follow your values, but if they end up choosing not to, it would be best for them to have a healthy knowledge of safer sex practices and a robust understanding of consent— especially that consent given under coercion or while under the influence isn’t good enough. Parents must also find balance in their parenting style between being excessively authoritative and being too permissive. If your teen confesses that they tried alcohol and your knee-jerk
“The parent must understand that
these children aren’t our possessions, that they are their own person and they’re DEVELOPING THEIR OWN IDENTITY .” — SANDY MUELLER
reaction is punishment, they’ll be hesitant to come to you in the future. Instead, open a dialogue about why they felt the need to experiment. This can lead to a larger conversation about peer pressure and how to handle new challenges, which they will face in abundance as young adults. Even sharing your own experiences can help kids learn to make better decisions. “The parent must understand that these children aren’t our possessions, that they are their own person and they’re developing their own identity,” Mueller says. “The parent is responsible to be a guide, a mentor and a teacher—not their friend.” Mueller also stresses that open communication should be established long before your child enters their teens, so they won’t be afraid to bring up tough topics or to ask for help. Every step in a child’s development is a step toward independence. She warns: “There’s never a parent that has come to me and said, ‘I was so angry that my child called me for a ride home when they were drunk’”—but there are parents who say “I wish they would’ve called” when their child experiences the ramifications of a poor choice.
SUMMER 2021 HEALTHY KIDS MAGAZINE 15
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