Helping Young People Take Charge of their Health and Well-Being
High school graduation is upon us. Students, parents, friends and families are ready to celebrate this rite of passage from childhood to young adulthood. After the final exams are passed and caps and tassels are packed in the keepsakes, attention turns to what’s next. Whether that’s college, trade school, or a job, for many young people that will mean moving away from home and feeling the thrill – and the responsibility – of greater independence.
Along with so many other things, that independence will include taking greater responsibility for their health and well-being.
“When kids are leaving for college there is a lot of focus on academic success,” said Kootenai Clinic Family Medicine Residency physician and incoming behavioral health fellow Marlee Novak, M.D. “But there is so much change and growth happening during those first few years, parents really have an opportunity to be proactive and start the conversation about the kinds of things their child might encounter outside the classroom and how to handle them.”
Know Where to Go
In addition to finding the best place to find a cup of coffee or quick snack in their new location, it’s also a good idea to know the local health care resources.
Student Health Services: For students going on to a college or university there are often student health services on campus. These may or may not be part of their new student orientation, but it’s easy to stop by and ask about hours, types of care they offer, what their fees are, and whether or not they can bill your insurance.
Urgent Care: Many communities have at least one urgent care facility. These can be a great place to go for minor emergencies like a sore throat that isn’t getting better, a bad cut, or a sprained ankle. Patients often receive care more quickly than if they were to go to a hospital emergency department, and the cost is significantly less. Encourage your child to look up the hours of their local urgent care. It can make it easier for them to make a late afternoon decision to go to the urgent care rather than waiting until 11 p.m. when the only option is the hospital emergency room.
Family Medicine: If your child is already established with a family physician or provider, you may want to keep that relationship and plan wellness visits when your child is home on vacation. Ask the provider’s office if they offer telehealth visits. This may be a convenient option that allows your child to continue seeing that provider while they are away at school.
Healthy Relationships: Children leaving home for the first time have much more freedom. This includes freedom to choose who they hang out with, who they date, and what time they come home.
“The post-high school setting is full of potential for peer pressure,” said Dr. Novak. “When you add to that most young people’s desire to be cool and fit in, they can find themselves in some uncomfortable situations. Encourage them to trust their gut – if something is making them uncomfortable, it’s OK to speak up or walk away.”
You might consider having your child download a ridesharing app such as Uber of Lyft on their smartphone. Encourage them to use it once or twice to become familiar with it. Then, if he or she is ever in a situation they need to leave, using the app can get them home safely.
Healthy relationships should include a friend or group of friends who can talk honestly, and offer social and emotional support for one another. Your child may no longer want to share everything with you as their parent, so having another caring option will be an important resource for helping him or her processing feelings. Even when they aren’t talking to mom or dad, though, they are still listening.
“If you have concerns as a parent, it’s important for you to talk plainly,” said Dr. Novak. “If you are wondering about something, even when it’s hard, you should ask the question. It’s often more productive to wait until everyone is calm and feeling relaxed, but when the time is right, it’s OK to just say what’s on your mind with kindness. You want your child to know you are a safe resource and it’s OK for them to talk with you about anything.”
Mental Health: As we learn more about the importance of mental health, many schools now offer resources for students to talk with a trained professional. Spend some time learning about the resources available at your child’s school and encourage him or her to reach out if they are feeling overwhelmed. Many campuses also have faith-based groups and social organizations for everything from intramural sports to academic interests. These can be a big help to those who may be struggling to find like-minded friends in a new town.
This is an exciting time in your child’s life as he or she leaves home and takes the first steps as an independent adult. Remember to celebrate and enjoy this milestone together.
Looking for a Family Physician?
Kootenai Clinic Family Medicine Residency is welcoming new patients. Call the Kootenai Clinic Appointment Center at (208) 625-6767 or visit appointmentcenter.kh.org.