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Adolescence: A Time of Self Discovery

Por Lic. Isabel C. Rodríguez R.* -

Do you have a daughter who was once sweet and docile and is now argumentative, and spending hours on the phone complaining to friends that nobody understands her? Or, do you have a son who has suddenly lost interest in playing his favorite games and locks himself in his room to “think?"

If this sounds familiar, you probably have a child between the ages of 10 and 11 in the beginning stages of adolescence.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), adolescence is the period between 10 and 19 years of age during which profound physical, psychological, social, and cultural changes occur. These changes eventually lead a young person to adult self-sufficiency.

The United States census taken in the year 2000 reported a total of 40,747,962 adolescents in the country, representing 14.5% of the population.

With such a large number of adolescents, it is likely that most adults interact with them in one way or another. Because adolescents' behavior is so unpredictable, we may not know how to respond to them. It is easy for adults to forget that they have all been through adolescence. 

One of the main causes for unhappiness or stress in adolescents is their concern with body image. Adolescents spend a significant amount of time exercising to build up muscles, or dieting to lose weight. This is of increased concern today to health professionals, because adolescents’ preoccupation with their bodies is affecting more kids than in the past. Some adolescents become so obsessive about their body image, that they develop eating disorders (psychologically-triggered illnesses in which the young person has a distorted body image).

At the opposite end of the spectrum there is also a large number of adolescents who are not physically active or concerned at all about what they eat. These kids are getting little or no physical activity, spending hours in front of the TV or computer, drinking large amounts of beverages high in sugar, and eating unhealthy foods high in calories. It is this group of adolescents that is at highest risk for becoming overweight or obese, and developing serious diseases in adulthood, such as diabetes, and heart problems such as high blood pressure.

What can you do to help?

Most adolescents reject their parents' advice because they want to be independent and autonomous. When parents attempts to care for their adolescent children are unsuccessful, their kids can become even more vulnerable and sensitive. It is recommended that parents create a climate of confidence in the home in order for their adolescent children to know they have someone to turn to, without feeling pressured or overprotected.

To make this process as easy and effective as possible for all members of the family, the team at MyDiet™ offers the following advice:

  • Don’t wait until your child becomes an adolescent to model and promote good eating habits. Children that have grown up having learned good eating habits, are more likely to continue them through adolescence and adulthood.
  • Encourage your child to be active. Remember that at this age, adolescents often consume extra calories by eating out. They can easily burn those extra calories by increasing the amount of exercise they get. This can include both structured and unstructured activities (for example team sports versus. raking leaves in the yard).
  • If your child decides to go on a diet, explain the importance of eating healthy during adolescence in order to develop and maintain a healthy body. Focus on what is good to eat rather than emphasizing foods not to eat, or labeling foods as "bad."  If he/she insists on dieting, consult a nutritionist or a dietitian to get more specific guidance.
  • Consult a doctor immediately, if at any moment you think your child is: obsessed with his/her body image; not eating enough; or is taking laxatives and/or making themselves vomit after meals. These are all signs/symptoms of disordered eating.
  • If your child is overweight, don’t make negative comments about the excess weight. Focus instead on providing as many opportunities as possible for your child to be active and to make good food choices. Sign your child up for different types of active classes, or join a gym that has classes specifically for kids their age. Consult a nutritionist or dietitian and offer your child plenty of healthy choices at meals at home.

Adolescents are unique, and so are their actions and behaviors. That doesn't mean individuals of other ages cannot get along well with them.  With patience and tolerance, parents can guide their adolescent kids to live a healthy lifestyle. In doing so, they will enable their kids to practice healthy eating habits and be physically active, which will improve their quality of life as adults.

*Nutritionist from MyDiet™ Team
President of the Venezuelan Society of
Nutritional Education


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