I think American teenagers are great. Why do I say that? Because when I compare my teen years with this generation, I find that teens today are more mature, have a stronger sense of social justice, and are much better informed on current events. One thing I've noticed is that if you empower a teen with good morals and a loving and responsible home environment, you are going to end up with a very special individual.
I am going on the record with this because my 10-year-old son is already demonstrating teenage behavior, so I want to make sure that there is evidence of my position in case it comes up later. I got the idea from watching the Alito hearings. I am always pleased when I get those "family picture" Christmas cards. The mom, dad, two teenage daughters, and the dog next to fireplace. What bliss! I can't wait to have my own teenager!
However, I was somewhat confused when I read the sobering conclusion of a study from the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Developing (NICHD). The study concluded that by the time American teenagers reach early adulthood, most have already adopted at least one unhealthy behavior: smoking, overeating or abusing alcohol.
Let's look at some of these issues. First smoking: after 10 years of steady decline, it seems that smoking trends are not decreasing as fast as we might expect. Last year, the percentage of teens who had smoked within the last 30 days leveled off to just nine percent. Eighth graders tend to be the first ones to show new trends. But why, especially after so much publicity against smoking, the creation of no-smoking zones, and a decrease in adult smoking, are the statistics not improving? Most teens surveyed say, ‘peer pressure and fitting in’ were responsible for their picking up the habit. Hey?! What about the tobacco companies? They keep coming up with cool stuff like flavored cigarettes. I wonder who they are marketing those to — my uncle Joe the wholesale butcher or the kid down the block?
The other big issue is eating habits. If there was ever a generation who believe that, ‘It is better to look good than feel good,’ we certainly have it today. I am not talking about teens! It's the adults! Look at the explosion in the use of cosmetic surgery, creams to look younger, and machines that melt away cellulite. American's obsession with appearance is out of control. So do I think this has an impact on our teenagers? You bet! Fifty percent of all teenage girls are practically starving themselves to stay thin. According to a study by the Food Standards Agency, HALF of teenage girls always skip breakfast and do not know normal eating habits. Fifteen percent would consider taking laxatives or making themselves sick to keep their weight down.
So where do we go from here? I guess more parental involvement. That seems to be the response I get anytime I bring up the subject of corporate responsibility. There are those who say it is the parents, and only the parents, who are responsible to make sure their children eat right, don't smoke, and don't drink. Look, I know firsthand how challenging parenting can be. We need a little help! Society in general needs to get involved to help protect our future generations!
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Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Click here for more information on Dr. Manny's work with Hackensack University Medical Center. Visit AskDrManny.com for more.