“Parents can help children develop resilience by learning ways to cope with stress early on,” says Dr. M. Elyce Kearns, child psychiatrist. Try to model healthy stress-easing tactics when life runs you ragged. Encourage children to find a mix of calming choices that work for them (see bullets). Stick to sleep and mealtime routines, and keep communicating. Checking in daily about homework, plans and activities, and what happened during the day helps keep communication lines open for more difficult times.
Marching toward a healthier beat
Terrance Miles (right) is shown (from left to right) with Haxin Zeng, a Start Strong Initiative peer leader, U.S. Congressman John Lewis of Georgia and Cherri Allison, the executive director of the Family Violence Law Center in Oakland, Calif. The group attended a Start Strong national meeting in Washington, D.C., which focused on violence prevention. (Photo courtesy of Start Strong Initiative)
In many ways, Terrance Miles, 18, is a typical teenager — he has a set of headphones seemingly glued to his head.
“I listen every chance I get,” he says, “on my way to school, on my way home from school, on my way to work.”
But in listening to an eclectic list of musicians — everyone from Eric B and Rakim to Jay-Z and Lupe Fiasco — Miles says he came to a not-so surprising conclusion: a lot of the lyrics are in bad taste and promote unhealthy lifestyles and relationships.
So significant is the impact of music on risk behaviors that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in 2009 took a stand and developed a policy statement to make pediatricians and parents aware of music’s influence on children and youth.
According to the AAP, a staggering 42 percent of songs on the top 10 CDs contain very explicit sexual content. Furthermore, some types of music in particular — rap, rock and heavy metal — often revolve around sexual promiscuity, death, homicide, suicide and substance abuse, all risk factors relating to high mortality rates in adolescents.
The AAP has a lot of support. The Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston researches the impact of media on children’s health. The Boston Public Health Commission’s Start Strong Initiative not only educates teens about healthy relationships, it has developed a tool to analyze the “health” of lyrics.
Like many health-conscious teenagers, Miles decided to do something and recently became a mentor for the Initiative. “I hope it has an effect,” he said.
At first, he explained, he did not put that much stock in the theory that lyrics could have that sort of impact. They had little effect on him, he says, in part because strong parental guidance kept him on the straight and narrow.
But when he witnessed abusive relationships in his friends, he realized the problem was more severe than he thought. “It’s impossible to avoid,” he said.
Annika Nielsen, an 18-year-old senior at Boston Latin School, is another teen who is actually doing something to encourage healthier lifestyles.
Nielsen said that she’s always been conscious of good health. She’s a member of the track team at Latin and she’s starting a club at school for staying healthy and fit. “I generally eat very healthy,” she said. “Although I’m not opposed to cookies and cakes now and then.”
She gets a yearly physical and takes her vitamins every day. When asked about soda, she answered “never.”
Nielsen is a member of Breath of Life Dorchester (B.O.L.D.) Teens, a nonprofit community based group that already has changed life for the better.
Her work with B.O.L.D. Teens has given her a more global perspective. “It’s no longer me, myself and I,” she said.
When several of its members recognized that the tobacco industry was targeting black youth through rap music and billboard advertisements, they went into attack mode. They protested the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies and worked with the Boston Public Health Commission to increase fines for selling tobacco products to minors.
Their greatest accomplishment, which was praised by the Center for Tobacco Products, was the design of bright pink warning labels that are affixed to cigarette packs. According to the teens, about 15 merchants in the area have supported and allowed the distribution of the labels.
Their actions may have had an effect. Black teens in Massachusetts are less likely to smoke than white teens.
B.O.L.D. Teens are now focused on another front: healthy eating.
“There are a lot of health disparities,” Nielsen said. “I believe access to healthy foods and knowing a healthy lifestyle is important for everyone.”
And she knew teens are hit hard. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2009, less than one-fourth of high school students interviewed reported eating fruits and vegetables five or more times daily.
Nielsen saw part of the problem, “There was no way to get a healthy meal in my neighborhood,” she said. “A person would have to travel to get healthy food.”
And that’s when the farmer’s market was born. Nielsen and the B.O.L.D. Teens contacted several farmers in the area. They listened and they came. For the past three years a farmer’s market has run in Dorchester every Thursday from the end of June to October.
Nielsen sees the results. Not only was the community supplied with a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables — strawberries, apples, squash, turnips and green beans, for example — this past year more men and young people took part.