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FirstHealth of the Carolinas
The “wonder years” of boys and teens By Dick Broom
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The “wonder years” of boys and teens

The Raging Hormones would be a good name for a sports team or rock band made up of teenage boys.

Adolescence is when boys’ hormones shift into overdrive, triggering incredible spurts of growth, causing hair to grow in places it didn’t grow before, and lowering voices an octave or two.

Around age 13—sometimes younger, sometimes older—boys begin the physical transition from childhood to adulthood. They experience sexual awakening, muscular development and acne. They eat ravenously and, at some point, start shaving.

“Parents often ask when all this starts because they want to know when it will happen to their son,” says Christoph Diasio, M.D., of Sandhills Pediatrics in Southern Pines. “It’s really variable. The best answer is to ask when Dad started shaving. Was he ahead of the other kids, a little later or in the middle of the pack?”

The late childhood and teenage years are generally pretty healthy times for both boys and girls. But it is when some of them make choices that seriously jeopardize their immediate safety or long-term health. They start smoking, drinking or using drugs. They have unprotected sex. They ride in cars with friends who have just gotten their licenses, and when they are old enough, they get behind the wheel themselves.

Young drivers are inexperienced and sometimes reckless, and some of them seem to think it’s a sign of weakness to buckle their seat belts. It’s little wonder that highway accidents are by far the leading cause of death among teenagers.

Dr. Diasio says the biggest threat to their future health is smoking.

“The tobacco companies are out there to take advantage of 11-, 12-, 13- year-olds,” he says. “We need to help them understand that one of the best things they can do for themselves is not to fall for that, not to start smoking.

“I understand that kids need to create their own identity and set themselves apart from their parents. But I tell them to pick music that’s obnoxious (to their parents) instead of picking up a lifelong habit that costs a hundred bucks a month and leads to death.”

Boys and what they eat
Growing boys can seem to their parents like bottomless pits; they’re always hungry, always eating. And a lot of what they tend to eat, away from home especially, is junk food.

Patrick Egbe, M.D., of Choice Pediatrix in Rockingham, says it isn’t easy to get kids to choose vegetables and fruit instead of fries and soft drinks, but parents and physicians should do what they can.

“The fast food habit is part of the reason obesity is now a pandemic,” he says. “There is so much advertising for foods that are high in fat and high in calories, and a lot of it is targeted at kids. It’s important to emphasize that a balanced diet is important for their weight and their health.”

Dr. Diasio agrees, saying, “If you’re heavy at 18, you’re probably going to be heavy the rest of your life.”

The heavier you are, the greater your risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

In addition to eating too much of the wrong things, some kids also become heavy and unhealthy because they don’t get enough exercise. A lot of teenagers spend hours watching TV, surfing the Web or playing computer games instead of chasing fly balls or shooting jump shots.

“We recommend at least one hour a day of physical activity and no more than two hours of screen time,” Dr. Egbe says.

For more information on FirstHealth’s teen tobacco program, call (800) 213-3284 toll-free.

Get those vaccinations

Children get most of their important immunizations by the time they start school, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends two vaccines for all kids at age 11 or 12.

One vaccine, called Tdap, prevents tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. The other vaccine, MCV4, protects against bacterial meningitis, a serious disease that causes inflammation of the tissues covering the brain and spinal cord.

A vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV), which is the leading cause of cervical cancer, is recommended for pre-teen girls.

Adolescence is when kids, especially boys, start becoming less attentive to their medical care, says Patrick Egbe, M.D., a pediatrician in Rockingham.

“Like a lot of adults, they think the absence of disease is good health, and that is not necessarily true,” he says. “They need regular check-ups and preventive care, as well as education about all the things that could be issues at their age, from acne to sex.”