A Teen Girl’s Keys to a Healthy Life

Teen girlhood brings exciting firsts: driver’s licenses, concerts with friends, dates, prom. It’s also the awkward in-between, where your body and skin seem to change every day and you’re discovering who you are.

You don’t have to have it all figured out. But teen health experts say learning to love and care for yourself can help get you through the bumps in the road.

“Adolescence is a stage of life where you become more independent,” said Michelle Escovedo, MD, an adolescent medicine specialist. “So, it’s really important for girls to start establishing good health practices and understanding and taking ownership of their health.”

The teen years overwhelmingly define adult habits and are major predictors of lifetime health, influencing everything from blood pressure to mood and brain, heart, kidney and lung health.

“It’s really important for girls to start establishing good health practices and understanding and taking ownership of their health.”

A Healthy Foundation

Basic self-care wards off diabetes, heart disease, obesity and even viruses such as the flu. This includes:

  • An hour of daily exercise of any type, such as gymnastics, a run, hockey or swimming
  • Getting eight to 10 hours of sleep per night
  • Eating three meals a day, starting with breakfast, to fuel your growing body

“It’s not about how you look or exactly how much you weigh,” Escovedo said.

Most teen girls should see a pediatrician or adolescent medicine specialist for a full physical exam and protective vaccines once each year, unless they need closer follow-up for asthma or another condition.

Menstrual Health

Puberty is happening earlier than ever, around 10.5 to 12 years old for girls, though it varies.

Your doctor will explain and track changes such as breast development, pubic and armpit hair, a growth spurt and your period. Ask your mom how old she was when she started menstruating and have some pads or tampons ready in your backpack for when yours arrives.

Periods last about five to seven days. Longer or very painful periods or heavy bleeding—soaking through pads overnight or needing tampon or pad changes every one to two hours—are red flags. They could mean uterine, hormone or endometrial disorders.

Watch out for unusual vaginal discharge, itching, burning or pelvic pain, which can be signs of yeast, urinary tract or sexually transmitted vaginal infections.

Breasts are usually done growing by the end of your first period. While self-exams are no longer recommended, and cancer is rare at this age, be mindful of any abnormal lumps or masses.

Chan added that hormones fluctuate a lot as you mature, causing mood swings and acne.

Keep your primary doctor in the loop about all your symptoms. They can investigate and help you manage any concerns or refer you to a specialist, if needed.

Teens Have Sex, Too

It’s normal to become interested in sex during the teen years. And thanks to robust sex education and plenty of birth control options, teens are having safer sex.

If you choose to be sexually active, know that you have a legal right to confidential reproductive care, including testing, contraception and abortion, Escovedo said.

“Adolescents need privacy but still should have a safe adult to talk to,” she said.

Depending on your lifestyle and health and family history, doctors can prescribe birth control pills, vaginal rings, patches, injections or intrauterine devices to prevent pregnancy. These hormonal methods are all extremely safe for most healthy people and work well, Chan said—much better than “natural” fertility trackers.

Birth control, though, “does not equal STI protection,” Chan added.

Speak to your doctor about the best barriers to stay safe, such as condoms or dental dams, for the type of sex you’re having. And get tested regularly for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV and syphilis.

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