Panel discussion helps parents, teachers understand the teenage mind

Panel discussion helps parents, teachers understand the teenage mind

“Making Sense of Adolescence,” a program produced by a partnership among the Brandywine School District, Christiana Care Health System, Nemours and the University of Delaware, recently presented a talk about mental and emotional development in teens for parents, educators and community members at Brandywine High School.

Although generally a time of physical well-being, teens and young adults face unique health risks and social pressures.

Two featured speakers at the event were Mary Stephens, M.D., MPH, medical director of Christiana Care’s school-based health centers, and University of Delaware School of Nursing nurse educator and author Judith Herrman, Ph.D., RN, ANEF, FAAN.

Dr. Stephens spoke about the unique challenges facing teens and the evidence-based research findings that can guide both health care providers and parents.

“Teens face so many health risks — pregnancy, alcohol and tobacco use, drug use, obesity and depression,” she said. “Medical providers can help adolescents stay physically healthy through regular check-ups and screenings, but just as important, teens should be evaluated for emotional problems such as depression.”

“There are effective interventions that can give them help. Since teens sometimes find it difficult to talk to their parents about sensitive issues, medical providers should make them feel safe to discuss those subjects and protect their privacy as they work together.”

Dr. Herrman discussed the latest research that shows how the development of a teenager’s brain helps to explain their emotions and decision making.

“We once thought that a person’s brain stopped growing at an early age, but we’ve learned that a teenager’s mind is constantly growing, removing clutter, strengthening neural pathways and striving to work more efficiently,” Dr. Herrman said. “Because all this is going on, teens are often slower to make decisions and can find it hard to understand risk and the consequences of their actions. On the positive side, parents should take advantage of this period of growth by exposing their teens to as many varied, positive experiences as possible to develop their talents and self-esteem.”

The event was sponsored by the Community Engagement and Outreach component of ACCEL (Accelerating Clinical and Translational Research), a National Institutes of Health multi-site grant program that funds efforts to move extensive, groundbreaking research into practical clinical applications in the community. ACCEL partners include Christiana Care, the University of Delaware, Nemours and the Medical University of South Carolina, joining in collaboration with communities to show how “research that matters” can improve health outcomes for families.

About 200 people — neighbors, leaders, health care providers and teachers — gathered at Brandywine High School for the forum and workshop, where representatives from 18 local organizations provided information on services they offer for teens and families.

During the expert panel portion of “Making Sense of Adolescence,” Drs. Stephens and Herman were joined by Kristen Isaac, BS, MPH (cand.), research assistant at Christiana Care, and Meghan Walls, Psy.D, pediatric psychologist at Nemours/A.I. duPont Hospital for Children. The panel responded to audience questions with advice about teen sexual activity, nutrition, sleep, prescription drug use and dealing with violence. They also gave details on helpful community resources and how to access them.

“Providing quality health care requires strong partnerships,” said Liz O’Neill, project director at Christiana Care. “Through this seminar, we reached a large group of parents and educators who wanted to understand teens better so they can improve parental and teaching relationships. The information will help them transfer the things we’ve learned from research into practical ways for families to have better lives.”

Dawn Hower, a mother from Claymont who benefitted from the discussion, commented: “Recently, when I said no to my 16-year-old son about something he wanted, he had difficulty understanding the reasons why. Tonight I learned that since a teenager’s mind is growing and changing so fast, they need more time to grasp certain kinds of situations. I’ll be patient and give my son that extra time. It will be helpful for both of us.”