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Warn your teens: Don’t take this back to school

Consumer Reports News: August 16, 2010 06:08 AM

Parents like me, who are also neurologists, tend to have pretty strict rules for their kids—and gory stories to go along with them. After years seeing too many preventable tragedies in too many emergency rooms, we talk to our own children about drug overdoses, alcohol poisoning, brain trauma, spinal cord injuries, and not diving into shallow bodies of water, and make them promise to always wear a seatbelt and put on a helmet when they bike or skateboard.

So imagine my horror when, during a recent sleepover at my house, a fourteen-year old guest (and the quietest child of all) decided to climb on top of the second floor balcony rail at 4 a.m. and leap down into the living room, while friends filmed it. I learned about it the next day when I was called by a parent who saw it posted on Facebook. My 14-year-old son, who claimed to be sleeping innocently during the debacle, still wondered what all the fuss was about. After all, his friends had moved a sofa to cushion the landing.

No matter how many conversations we’ve had, there are always unforeseeable circumstances and risks that arise. Here are five newish and perhaps surprising risk-taking behaviors that you may want to talk to your kids about:

• Biting and cutting and sucking blood. Yes, as unbelievable as it sounds, there’s a vampire movement afoot thanks to the glamorous portrayal of teen vampires on the Twilight series and The Vampire Diaries and the popularity of HBO’s True Blood. Besides the serious bacterial dangers of human bites*, it can be a mode of HIV transmission* that’s not covered in most sex ed classes.

• Circle lenses/decorative contact lenses. A look made popular by Lady Gaga and YouTube, circle lenses create a big doe-eyed appearance and have become popular among teenage girls. Illegal to sell without a prescription, but easily bought online, doctors are concerned about risks of blinding infections and damage to the cornea.

• ADHD prescription drug abuse. The same drugs being used to treat attention deficit disorder are being freely shared by some teens on college campuses and high schools to give them an edge at preparing for exams. Not only is the stigma gone, but kids who have the prescriptions are the go-to favorites during finals. If your child uses ADHD drugs, warn him or her against sharing. If your child doesn’t, make it clear that these are serious medications with side effects, not study aids.

• Tobacco escalation products. A few years ago, one of my older son's classmates had her Sweet Sixteen party at a hookah bar in New York City. Like many teens, my son was convinced that, unlike cigarettes, smoking a hookah was not harmful. In fact, hookahs do use tobacco (referred to as Massel) which comes in a wide variety of flavors—including apple, strawberry, and coconut—intended to create a "graduation strategy" so that kids get hooked by starting them with milder tasting, more flavored substances. This trick is also used with a product called " Snus", a non-chew, no-spit oral tobacco that’s also available in variety of sweet and fruity flavors. Also increasingly popular with teens, using Snus lets them stay under the radar at school and still get their nicotine fix, because it’s stuffed between the lip and the gum. Make sure your teens know that these products have their own dangers, as well as leading to nicotine addiction.

• Tanorexia/Tanning salons. Even though exposure to tanning beds before the age of 30 increases a person's risk of developing melanoma by 75 percent, this real danger is dampened by television shows that depict it as trendy and fashionable. One study of university students found that more than 90 percent of tanning-bed users know about the risks of premature aging and skin cancer, but continue to tan because they think it looks good.

For 5 more risky behaviors not to take back to school, see our full report "10 Troublesome Teen Trends."

Orly Avitzur, M.D., Consumer Reports medical adviser

For more news, discussion, and tips on your child's health, "like" us on Facebook and sign up for our free Child & Teen monthly e-newsletter

* links to PDF

Aaron Bailey

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