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January 2004 Issue
Kidsafe: Parents make healthy children; healthy children become healthy adults.
by Michael Fick
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You know obese kids are on the fast track to heart disease, strokes, and diabetes, but you may not know that severely obese teens feel even more social isolation than teenage cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, that one in six kids is seriously overweight, and that this number has tripled in just 30 years. [Didn’t video games appear in the 70s?] It’s up to parents to reverse this trend, and the best ways to do that are to make sure our own kids don’t succumb to it and to support community attempts to reverse it.

A giant step away from obesity, for both parents and communities, is sports. Sure, kids get hurt at play, but the risks of a sedentary lifestyle are greater and longer-lasting than most sports injuries. The healthiest senior citizens I know began playing hard long before pre-school, and still play harder than most teenagers do.

We can greatly reduce the risks of sport injuries in several ways.

  • Make the little rebels wear their helmets (bikes are by far the number one trigger for ER visits under age 10, and 120,000 of their 140,000 ER trips for head injuries are preventable by helmets),
  • make referees get tough on fouls,
  • make your schools hire athletic trainers (because the coach is busy coaching), and
  • limit the Stupid Kid Tricks that get them on “Real TV” and “What Were You Thinking?”
One episode of “What IDIOTS!” should motivate every parent to covertly observe his boy’s skateboard antics. Many ER docs would say that if a kid jumps his skateboard off two-story buildings onto concrete for entertainment, his parents have failed him.

No matter how kids get ill/scraped/reassembled, we need to supervise their access to antibiotics. A well-informed doctor [believe it or not, many people select their doctors by congeniality, not competence] will tell you whether and how to use any antibiotics she prescribes; heed her instructions, sticking to band aids, soap and water for most booboos and time and Coldeeze for cold symptoms.

Just as kids’ flesh, bone, and immune systems break, so do their minds. The variety, impact, and prevalence of mental illnesses in children are astounding, and you and I are not competent enough to distinguish “a phase” from serious mental illness. Diagnosable, often devastating, and often treatable mental illnesses occur in about 20% of children, and not one in five of those cases get needed care. This means one in six American youths suffers unnecessarily from such career-threatening, even life-threatening, illnesses as depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and a whole array of anxiety disorders ... for starters.

Come on, parents; wake up and do the job you signed up for on that hot, sweaty night. As your child’s first line of detection and only line of defense, you must

  • a) be alert to the possibility of mental illness,
  • b) consult professional help including psychotherapy when such illness is suspected,
  • c) decide whether the diagnosis is real or psychobabble or pill-pushing, and
  • d) decide whether and how to treat it.
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