Back to school ... back to wellness

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Why Back-to-School Physicals Are Important for Middle Schoolers

Wellness checkups and annual physicals seem common place for infants, toddlers and adults, but what about the in-between years when kids are in middle school? These years sometimes get lost in the mix, especially if a child is healthy and active, but they are also critical years in a child's development, physically and mentally. An annual back-to-school physical is an excellent opportunity to not only ensure your child's physical health, but his or her overall wellbeing.

Tweens and Change

Whether 10, 12 or 14-years old, the middle-school years can be a challenging time full of ups and downs. Roxana Cham, MD, who practices family medicine at Methodist Family Health Center - Firewheel in Garland, looks at the tween and teenage years as some of the most challenging, a time when children may be reluctant to communicate with their parents.

"There are a lot of changes that a tween and teenager may not feel completely comfortable sharing with their parents. It is important to allow them one-on-one time with their physician to ask questions and explore topics that they may feel embarrassed to discuss with family members," Dr. Cham explained.

Physical Wellness

The back-to-school physical is a good opportunity to screen for a variety of health issues like vision, blood pressure, obesity, scoliosis and acanthosis nigricans, which is a darkening of the skin that can be associated with a risk for diabetes.

In addition, middle schoolers still require vaccines and boosters. Every tween should get their annual flu vaccine, but Dr. Cham also suggests tweens, by the 11 and 12-year-old checkup, begin getting most of the recommended vaccines, including a tetanus booster, meningitis vaccine followed by booster at age 16, and HPV vaccine series. Some schools require additional vaccinations, including meningococcal B and Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) boosters.

Mental Wellness

Physicians like Dr. Cham use the back-to-school physical to not only ensure the physical health of a child, but also create a dialogue and have an open conversation about mental health, depression, changes with puberty, safety measures, and other challenges like bullying, dating, healthy eating and proper sleep.

"We always try to have a few minutes of one-on-one time to discuss any topic they want without their parents present," she said. "We have an open door policy and notify our teens that they are welcome to contact us with any concerns, so that we can help them communicate with their parents and facilitate a proper solution to any problem."

Dr. Cham also asks every teen a few simple questions to screen for depression. "Many times these questions lead to a more in depth conversation about depression and other mental health issues."

The tween years can be tough and confusing. Today's middle schoolers face increased pressures from peers, relationships, school and unfortunately bullying. An annual back-to-school visit with your child's physician is the chance to start a dialogue with your child to discuss these issues and more.

"Physicals are a great time to talk about all aspects of healthy living in preparation for adulthood," Dr. Cham said. "They are an opportunity to discuss problems that may not have been concerning enough for an entire sick visit, but may be early signs of a larger problem that can be easily prevented or treated."

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