Teen health concerns

I was one of thousands of pediatricians in attendance at the 2017 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) national conference in September. 

We spent our days in learning sessions, discussing research and new recommendations from the pediatric health-care organization that sets the stage for more than 66,000 pediatricians. 

Among all the best-practices topics discussed, teenage health was a prominent subject. 

While many people associate pediatricians with young children, teens make up a large portion of our patients who can benefit from pediatrician expertise. 

Here are some of the most important messages from the conference: 

Tattoos and piercings

While the acceptance of tattoos and piercings in society has increased, there are still repercussions to getting them. In a 2014 survey of 2,700 people interviewing for a job, more than 75 percent said they believe a tattoo or piercing hurt their chances of getting the position. 

The AAP recommends parents discuss with their teens the implications of a tattoo or piercing. That includes topics such as the infections spread through contaminated equipment, the chipped teeth and gum problems associated with barbell type tongue jewelry and the expense of getting, maintaining and removing a tattoo. 

If your teen is considering a tattoo, it’s important to make sure immunizations are up to date and that your teen isn’t taking any medications that suppress the immune response.

Before getting a tattoo or piercing, teens should make sure the facility is clean and reputable — and regulated by the state. Facilities should provide clients with information on how to care for tattooed or pierced areas, and should practice infection prevention with sterile equipment, similar to a medical clinic.

In Minnesota, tattooing of anyone under 18 is prohibited, regardless of parental consent. Minors seeking piercings need parental/guardian consent — and a parent/guardian also must be present during the procedure. 

Scarification, which involves cutting or branding words into the skin, isn’t as highly regulated as tattooing or piercing, but it is also illegal for anyone younger than 18.

Read the up on the laws and find details about licensed facilities in Minnesota at tinyurl.com/mn-tattoo.

Cell phones

While cell phones are necessary to remain connected with teens, the technology also poses many risks. Parents should talk with their teens about distracted driving and consider using certain phone apps that prevent cell phone use while a vehicle is in motion. 

The AAP recommends parents communicate openly about sexting — defined as sending nude or semi-nude images or sexually explicit messages via cell phone — emphasizing that such actions are irreversible, may be displayed publicly, and could follow them into their adult life. 

Finally, parents should set boundaries for cell phone use before bed, as studies have shown that exposure to the blue-and-white light given off by phones, laptops and other electronics can prevent the brain from releasing melatonin, a hormone that sets the circadian rhythms that drive sleep.


Experts highlighted the importance of parents discussing safe sex and navigating birth control options with teens. 

There are many available methods of birth control pediatricians can present to their patients to determine what’s best for them. 

Pills, implants, injections and different types of IUDs are among the options. Because birth control pills need to be taken once a day at the same time every day, teenagers often don’t maintain enough consistency to make this a highly effective option. 

Implantable and injectable birth-control methods are therefore more reliable, but may have some unwanted side effects such as menstrual spotting. An IUD — a long-acting, T-shaped contraceptive that’s placed in the uterus — causes minimal side effects, offers years of uninterrupted contraceptive protection, and is safe for teens. 

However, none of these methods protect against sexually transmitted illnesses; thus condoms should always be used with any of the above birth-control options. 

Dr. Gigi Chawla is chief of general pediatrics at Children’s Minnesota.