By Susan Parmelee
As the new school year sneaks up sooner than usual, it is time to acclimate our children back to their school-year schedule. It is also a good time to think about how your family stays well. At the Wellness & Prevention Center, education and prevention are based on the wellness model, which is the opposite of the disease model. The goal of the wellness model is to maximize wellness by making healthy choices as outlined in a holistic model that address all of the interactive domains in our lives. The following is an outline of some of the domains of wellness and tips to help our kids make positive choices that are both important for their health and success in the school year ahead.
One of the wellness domains is social wellness which addresses how students interact with the environment and community. Teens seem to primarily interact in their social world through their cellphones. This sets them up for increased stressors that can be very foreign to the adults in their lives. To help teens avoid these stressors, parents need to have discussions about the relationships their kids are choosing and how they’re interacting in their relationships. Kids need clear rules for social media use. An excellent source to for parents and teens about social media smarts is the site www.cybersafetycop.com.
The emotional domain concept stresses that individuals are aware and accepting of their emotions, while attempting to maintain an optimistic outlook. As children grow this can be a struggle, especially in this era of 24-hour news coverage with tragedy and conflict constantly replayed on large and small screens. It is important for the influential adults present in a child’s life to help the find reasons to maintain optimism and hope during challenging times. Developmentally, teens need to be self-centered and focused on their emotional development, without taking on the added stress around them. Parents can help children by openly discussing emotions and reactions to events in their lives. It’s also important to refrain from always providing solutions to teens’ emotional struggles, and instead listen and let them process events with your empathic support.
The wellness model stresses the interplay and importance of each of the domains; however, so much of overall wellness comes from the physical health domain and our activity level and diet. In my work with youth and their families, I find the most neglected part of a teen’s physical health is sleep hygiene (meaning going to bed on-time and getting enough sleep). The main culprit is the time of day that school starts and the often overwhelming amount of homework and extracurricular activities. Parents can help their students by setting bedtimes and encouraging kids to manage their time wisely, exercise regularly, limit sugar and caffeine in their diet, eat healthy meals, and maybe sometimes (teachers don’t read this!) allowing them to turn in an assignment late if it means staying up too late trying to finish. Help your child by teaching them how to advocate with their teacher if you see any class contributing more to their late nights.
There are more domains to the holistic model of wellness, and I encourage you to explore the intellectual, spiritual and occupational dimensions as well to better understand how each contributes to you and your family’s well-being. Most importantly, we need to teach ourselves and our teens how to pay attention to what our bodies are telling us—both emotionally and physically and seek help when needed. Early intervention in both physical and mental health leads to healthier outcomes and lowers the risk of teens making poor decisions involving substance use and unhealthy relationships. To learn more, visit www.teenhealthandwellness.com and www.samhsa.gov/wellness-initiative/eight-dimensions-wellness.
Susan Parmelee is a mental health social worker and one of the founders of the Wellness & Prevention Center, San Clemente. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.