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  • Parents: Be Aware of Serious Threats to Your Teen

Published on November 07, 2012

Parents: Be Aware of Serious Threats to Your Teen

Most parents are tuned into the dangers of street drugs and alcohol. Yet there are other threats that may be readily available to teens on store shelves or even around the house.

“Often, kids hear about something from their friends or at school, and they don’t understand the dangers, risks or long-term consequences of a certain behavior,” said Dr. Samuel Schimelpfenig, pediatrician with Avera Medical Group McGreevy 7th Avenue.

One of those risks is energy drinks. Kids are allowed by law to buy them, or parents may buy them not realizing that they can be detrimental. “Energy drinks can have caffeine content that is equivalent to five to six cans of cola,” Dr. Schimelpfenig said. “The actual caffeine content can be hidden, as other ingredients are also basically caffeine. Too much caffeine can lead to difficulty sleeping, addiction, or even heart rhythm problems and palpitations. “These products are also loaded with sugar, which contribute to obesity and dental problems.”

Energy drinks can be easily confused with sports drinks. While sports drinks do not have caffeine, they do have a lot of sugar. They’re designed for athletes to replace the carbs and electrolytes lost in strenuous activity. Kids who aren’t involved in sports are better off to drink plain water, Dr. Schimelpfenig said.

A more sinister threat is inhaling or huffing of even common household substances. “It does produce a feeling of being high,” Dr. Schimelpfenig said. More common in younger adolescents, huffing can involve anything with fumes, such as model glue, aerosols or gasoline products. “If kids continue to do it, they can progress from being high to passing out or lapsing into a coma,” Dr. Schimelpfenig said.

Because the high is short lived, huffing can be difficult for parents to detect. “Parents might notice slurred speech, or a mental status that seems a little off,” Dr. Schimelpfenig said. Other signs are similar to generalized drug and alcohol abuse: a change in friends, poor performance in school, or withdrawing.

Teens can abuse drugs they’ve legally purchased at the store. “There used to be more of a problem with over-the-counter cough and cold medications which had ephedrine, which is used to make meth,” Dr. Schimelpfenig said. Now that ephedrine is no longer used, products containing alcohol are the greater problem. If kids drink these medications to get the alcohol effect, they can get too much of other ingredients, such as cough suppressants or acetaminophen, which can cause liver damage.

Prescription drugs used to treat ADHD may be abused, which kids sometimes tout to their friends as something that can help them focus at school and get better grades. “But it’s not safe – or legal – to take a prescription that’s not prescribed you. A kid who takes someone else’s prescription could have a bad reaction, or take too much,” Dr. Schimelpfenig said. “I always tell kids when I prescribe these medications that they are a controlled substance, and selling them to their friends is the same as dealing drugs.”

Because teens often have their own money and their own cars, it can be impossible to keep these types of threats under lock and key. “I encourage parents to keep an open line of communication. Know who they’re hanging out with, where they are, and what they’re doing,” Dr. Schimelpfenig said. Some parents think that if they don’t talk about subjects like drugs or sex with their kids, they won’t get “ideas.” “But the truth is, they’ve already got ideas. If they don’t hear it from their parents, they’ll hear it from their peers.”

Parents can also help ensure their child’s good health by taking them to see their pediatrician or family doctor at least every year or two years. “Some teens don’t get in to see a doctor for years, and they may be missing out on a recommended vaccination for serious illnesses such as whooping cough or meningitis. Recommendations keep changing, so it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor to make sure your child is up to date,” Dr. Schimelpfenig said.

To learn more about children’s health for all ages, go to