Summer is winding down, as are many associated warm-weather activities: camping out, swimming, barbecues, fireworks, etc. As fall begins, so does school, and it’s time to consider ways to keep your children safe and healthy during the academic year.
Some of the most common things that cause kids to miss school and not be at their best are the simplest to prevent. Colds and flu and other viruses can spread around a classroom as fast as a teen can text.
But the standard solutions still help a lot, as the Mayo Clinic recommends: Instill in children the habits of washing their hands frequently (for as long as it takes to sing the ABC song or “Happy Birthday”), using hand sanitizer, covering their mouths and noses with a tissue when sneezing or coughing, keeping their hands away from their eyes and mouths and not sharing items like water bottles or food.
Sleep is another big part of the health equation, and one many of us overlook. Teens need 8-10 hours of sleep every night, as the National Sleep Foundation says, and younger children need 9-11 hours per night.
Lack of sleep can impact not just children’s ability to perform well in classes but make them more likely to get sick, as Dr. Evan Reinhardt, a doctor of family medicine at Jordan Family Health, says.
Keep your eyes peeled for signs of stress in your child. It can make it harder for students to focus on their tasks and can even decrease the immune system’s ability to fight off sickness. Reinhardt suggests parents help their children manage their stress by encouraging them to exercise 30 minutes each day, use relaxation techniques and learn time management.
“A lot of the kids have phones, so they have calendars,” he says. “You can put an alert on them. Utilize the timers and alarms on the phones to get things done.”
With younger children who don’t have smartphones, it’s a bit harder to teach time management, but Reinhardt recommends incentivizing them to get homework done as soon as possible by “telling them if they get done quickly, they can go out to the park” or some other activity they enjoy.
Injuries are the leading cause of deaths in children 19 and younger, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During the school year, some injuries can take place at school, but many others can happen on the way there. If your child rides a bicycle to get to class, make sure she wears a helmet. Reinhardt even says to have children stretch before doing any activities.
One other big problem that can affect kids’ overall health may be more likely to happen at school or during the school year: bullying, which now includes cyberbullying.
Any form of bullying can leave kids feeling depressed, alone, helpless and hopeless, Reinhardt says. “It can really impact kids. And not just in the short term but also in the long term with confidence levels.”
With most young people using the internet and many of them using social media regularly, cyberbullying, which can happen via any electronic devices and technology, is an ever-increasing concern. According to stopbullying.gov, “Examples include mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles.”
Parents can help their children by monitoring their use of smartphones and computers, Reinhardt says. Computers need to be in a family room or other open area where people walk by frequently. Smartphones can be a bit trickier to monitor, but parents should be their children’s “friends” on social media and check in on accounts. Let kids know that you as the parent have the right to look at the history of texts and social media.
Have a weekly discussion with your teens about what they’re experiencing online, Reinhardt recommended. “What’s the best thing you’ve seen on Snapchat, what’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen on Instagram?”
Above all, if you feel your child is abusing the privilege of using the internet and smartphone, don’t be afraid to shut down access or accounts. And “if your intuition tells you something is going on, investigate,” Reinhardt says.
If bullying has happened at school, talk to school staff. If cyberbullying is going on, Reinhardt says, contact school staff but also “save all the emails, all the IM, the texts, for documentation purposes. If there are any serious violent threats, anything like that, the police should get involved.”