Helping Children and Adolescents
Helping Children and Adolescents
It goes without saying that health in general is a major objective for everyone throughout life. Essentially every learning activity has implications for the concept of health. For example, a child who reads a novel (like a Harry Potter book) can gain insight into certain positive and negative effects from the characters' behavior. Playing a musical instrument brings about perseverance, fine motor control, and concentration, all of which can be relevant to health. Engaging in a sport, cheerleading, marching band, or any of numerous other activities will add to physical fitness.
When considering the health risk behaviors for adolescents and young adults, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Eaton et al., 2008) monitors the following six factors: "behaviors that contribute to unintended injuries and violence; tobacco use; alcohol and other drug use; sexual behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection; unhealthy dietary behaviors; and physical inactivity" (p. 1). Other health consequences are also monitored. With these six health risk behaviors as a developmental roadmap, responsible adults should consider eight steps in their contacts with kids.
Step one requires all mental health professional to learn about each health-risk behavior, and communicate this information to others. Popular magazines, television programs, and so on recognize the importance of health information and provide frequent and easily obtained access. Talking to teachers and other educators, health care and social service professionals, friends and neighbors, and family members can also lead to helpful information about health.
Step two, the mental health professional should think about what children in general need to know. This informal assessment of childhood and adolescence helps the adult decide what information to communicate to youngsters and to periodically evaluate whether some addition or change to that information is needed.
Step three goes beyond children in general to considering a particular child's unique needs. At the different stages of childhood and adolescence, these needs will change. For example, information about sexuality for a child in, say, the fourth grade would be different from what a youngster reaching puberty needs.
Step four calls on the mental health professional to continually and purposefully seek useful health-related information and recognize that personal values and beliefs will be a filter that can have a positive or a negative effect. Open-mindedness to new information is essential. Search engines (e.g., Google.com) for Internet resources are potentially valuable, but information on websites must be scrutinized carefully to be sure of accuracy and appropriateness. Public libraries are still important sources of information, as are health care professionals, such as primary care physicians. Often forgotten, public health agencies commonly have a wealth of information available for anyone who needs it.
Step five specifies that, as with any communication between an adult and a youth of any age, the information conveyed by the mental health professional must fit the youngster's ability and willingness to comprehend. Certain topics may trigger defensiveness, perhaps within both the adult and the child, which could reduce the effectiveness of the guidance effort.
Step six supports the idea that the professional helper who offers health-related information should follow a consistent schedule or plan. That is, making a statement about heath should not be an isolated event; both the professional and youngster should expect that healthy behavior will be a topic of discussion over and over.
Step seven calls for evaluation. What has the youth learned about health, and does his or her behavior reflect the learning? Just as the classroom uses testing