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Helping adolescents with matters of health

I constantly get confidential electronic consults from adolescents when they find themselves faced with unexpected health issues. The range of enquiries is varied, with trivial concerns at times, but very serious health matters at certain points. Each encounter usually ends up with specific advice, and a longer-term recommendation on maintaining optimal health.

There must be pretty good reasons why some adolescents will only want to address health matters via easily accessible impersonal media. Embarrassment, stigma and lack of youth-friendly health facilities must count as some of the reasons. Some have no idea about what their bodies are capable of doing, as they rapidly transit into adulthood. There is so much health ignorance out there among adolescents. So how did we get ourselves into such a situation?

Our children will only be health-literate if they get introduced to health matters at a very young age. Parents bear the initial responsibility of guiding their children in the formative years. Bringing them up in a healthy environment, and inculcating healthy behavior is a good starting point. Grown-ups must be role models, children will tend to copy what they see before they can independently veer towards their own paths. Uneasy matters with grave health implications must be brought out at an early age. We are talking about sexual health, alcohol, and drugs among other issues.

Schools and other social forums are well-placed in complementing parental efforts in adolescent health. There must be an unambiguous understanding of the biological pubertal transition into adulthood. Adolescence is a period of heightened hormonal changes, with an inevitable sexual curiosity and desire. We can’t really stop adolescents from sexual experimentation. But we can prepare them for safe sexual habits. This means topics about condoms, sexual infections, and contraception must come up. This hopefully translates into avoidance of sexually transmitted infections and unwanted teenage pregnancies.

Efforts must be put in place to integrate adolescent healthcare into the already existing healthcare programs. Look at who walks into health facilities, it’s mostly children and adults. Adolescents are lost in the middle, you will struggle to find a facility where they fit in without feeling unduly self-conscious. We can make it more friendly for them to freely seek healthcare whenever necessary, and not feel out of place.

If you are an adolescent and reading this, you also have to play your role and define your own health path. You cannot afford to be carefree and get yourself into all sorts of unhealthy habits. You shouldn’t be doing drugs, smoking or clubbing yourself into a stupor. Desist from unprotected sex, both male and female condoms are readily available. If you slip up and are female, you need to be on some form of contraception. Never hesitate to seek medical help if something comes up, it’s always confidential between you and your doctor.

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