Children: Health Information
Children and teenagers face a number of specific health concerns as they grow. To ensure their physical and mental well-being, parents and caregivers should always encourage good nutrition and plenty of physical activity. It’s also important to ask hard questions about the drugs your children are prescribed, especially any that are intended to treat mental health problems or ADHD.
Issues Affecting Children’s Health
As children grow, they undergo enormous physical and mental changes. To set the stage for a lifetime of healthy habits, toddlers should be encouraged to try a wide variety of nutritious foods. Introducing children to physical activity and group sports at a young age will also help make exercise a regular part of their lives.
Mentally, a six-year-old should be able to focus on a single topic for at least 15 minutes, while a nine-year-old should have an attention span of an hour.
Girls may show the first signs of puberty as early as the age of eight. Once puberty begins, they will start to develop breasts and their body hair will grow at an increased rate. A girl will likely get her first period about two years after she develops breasts.
Boys enter puberty around the age of nine, with increased genital growth. Around 12, they will begin to develop body hair and their voice will start to change.
During childhood and adolescence, parents and caregivers should be vigilant for any sign that might suggest their child is experiencing developmental issues or mental health problems. For younger children, these warning signs might include:
- Frequent temper tantrums
- Excessive worrying
- Sudden or intense fears, panic attacks
- Preference for solitude, avoiding friends and family
- Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
- Sleep problems
- Frequent nightmares
- Changes or decline in school performance
- Refusing to go to daycare or school
- Hyperactive behavior
- Difficulty concentrating or completing tasks
- Frequent complaints about physical problems or ailments
- Persistent disobedient or aggressive behavior
Signs of trouble for adolescence may include:
- Drug and/or alcohol abuse
- Changes in school performance, failing grades
- Lack of coping skills
- Problems sleeping
- Changes in eating habits
- Excessive complaints of physical problems
- Defying authority, skipping school, stealing or damaging property
- Intense fear of gaining weight
- Chronic negative mood, often along with poor appetite and thoughts of death
- Frequent outbursts of anger
- Drastic changes in behavior or personality, mood swings
- Excessive worrying
- Withdrawal, avoiding family and friends
- Sadness or hopelessness that lasts more than two weeks
- Self-harming behaviors
Medications to Look Out For
Children and adolescents are especially vulnerable to harmful drug side effects. Some medications that are of special concern include:
- ADHD Medications: ADHD drugs like Ritalin and Adderall can cause decreased appetite, sleeping problems and headaches. More severe side effects include the development of tics and personality changes.
- SSRI Antidepressants: Studies have linked the use of SSRI antidepressants to suicidal ideation and behavior in children and teens. Prozac is the only SSRI approved for use in children (over the age of eight), but its label includes a Black Box Warning indicating that it may increase the risk of suicide in young adults.
- Antipsychotics: Atypical antipsychotics, including Risperdal, Invega and Abilify, can cause severe weight gain, sedation and involuntary movements like dystonia and tardive dyskinesia when taken by children. Boys who take Risperdal or Invega may also experience gynecomastia, a condition marked by the development of female-like breasts.
- Tylenol and Acetaminophen: Excessive amounts of acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol and many other over-the-counter drugs, can cause sever liver injuries, including liver failure. It’s important to closely monitor the amount of acetaminophen a child consumes over a 24 hour period, and to ensure they are not taking multiple products that contain the ingredient.
Last Modified: February 14, 2017