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U.S. Surgeon General Gives Tips to Parents on Teenagers

December 29, 2005
Contact: HHS Press Office
(202) 690-6343

WASHINGTON , DC -- As the “Year of the Healthy Child” draws to a close, U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., today outlined a dozen tips to help keep teenagers safe and healthy. Dr. Carmona's advice for parents of teens offers suggestions on how to encourage safe driving, healthy eating, and good school performance, and discourage drug use, sex, and activities that may result in injury.

"The values and lessons that you teach your teenager will shape the adults that they become. Although the teenage years have a reputation for bringing parents anxiety, parents can also know the great joy and pride that comes from seeing a child turn into a responsible adult," Dr. Carmona said. "By appreciating what parents do every day and getting the best information out to parents and children, I hope that every child will grow up healthy, happy, and able to reach his or her own potential."

The list is the fourth in a series of "Healthy Dozen Tips" that Dr. Carmona released as part of "The Year of the Healthy Child" agenda. The previous tips are available at

Healthy Dozen for 15 to 17 Year Olds (Middle Adolescence)

  1. Teach healthy habits. Teach your teenager how to maintain a high level of overall health through nutrition, physical fitness, and healthy behaviors. Make sure your teen gets 8 hours of sleep a night—a good night’s sleep ensures maximum performance in academics and sports. Sleep is the body’s way of storing new information to memory and allowing muscles to heal. Assist your teenager in practicing time management skills by helping them allot time for school, exercise, and fun time with friends and family. Encourage your teenager to participate in social activities, community groups, and/or sports. Your teen should share in household chores while at the same time taking on new responsibilities. Work with your adolescent to continue building decision-making skills and to understand the consequences of their behavior.
  2. Promote safe driving habits. Make sure your teenager uses a seat belt every time he or she is in a car, and ask your child to ensure that all other passengers are wearing their seatbelts when he or she is driving. Encourage your young driver to drive responsibly by following speed limits and avoiding distractions while driving such as talking on a cell phone, focusing on the radio, or even looking at fellow passengers instead of the road. Ask them to never drink and drive, and encourage them to call home or a sober friend if they need a ride home after consuming alcohol. Remind them that there are serious consequences for driving irresponsibly, including harming themselves or someone else.
  3. Teach the importance of healthy eating and physical activity. A healthy diet and adequate exercise maximizes the likelihood of teens growing up healthy and strong. Because teens are still growing and adding bone mass, a balanced diet is essential to your child’s health. Provide three nutritious meals a day, with fruits and vegetables, supplemented with healthy snacks. Avoid foods and drinks that are high in sugar, fat or caffeine. Choose fruits, vegetables; bread cereal, other grains; lean meats, chicken, fish; and low fat dairy products. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines, as well as the new recipe book A Healthier You based on the Guidelines, can help you plan healthy meals for yourself and your teen. Teenagers also need 30 to 60 minutes of physical activities 3 or more times a week. Obesity and overweight, even in children, can significantly increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses, and the vast majority of overweight teens go on to become overweight adults. Healthy eating and exercise will ensure that your child maintains a healthy weight.
  4. Take your child to the doctor and dentist. Preventing disease is easier—and less painful!—than curing it, so m ake sure your teenager gets regular check-ups. Your adolescent should have a primary health provider, such as a family practitioner or a physician specializing in adolescent medicine, who knows your child before he or she has an illness, injury, or issue that requires medical attention. Adolescents should have a preventive care visit once a year. Encourage good oral health. Cavities are the most common chronic disease among U.S. children. Your teen should brush twice a day with a soft toothbrush and floss daily. Talk with your dentist about fluoride and dental sealants. Make sure your teen has dental appointments on a regular basis, and learn dental emergency care.
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  5. Promotion of school success/ school achievement. Help your teen to become responsible for attendance, homework and course selection. Be sure to have conversations with your child about school and show your interest in his or her school activities. This will help them express any frustrations with school or thoughts of dropping out. Encourage them to pursue their talents and to participate in school activities that interest them. If your teen has trouble concentrating or is hyperactive more frequently than others are at the same stage of development, talk to your health care professional. Your child could have Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). ADHD can be managed through behavioral or medical interventions, or a combination of the two.
  6. Prevent violence. Prevent bullying by encouraging peaceful resolutions to conflict and building positive relationships. Teach teens to respect others, and encourage tolerance. Limit your adolescent’s exposure to violence in the media, the community, and at home. Teenagers pay more attention to their parents than you might realize -- they are watching all the time — and teens who grow up in a family environment filled with violence may learn to view violence as normal, acceptable behavior. Teach your teens that there is no place for verbal or physical violence by setting an example with your words and actions and by showing them respect as well.
  7. Teach your teen to say no to smoking. Teenage smoking is a pervasive problem in our society. To put the problem into perspective, more than 4,000 teens will try their first cigarette today. Every day, more than 2,000 kids become new regular, daily smokers. The pressure to experiment with tobacco can come from friends and peers. When adults smoke, they model behavior for children and teens. Smoking tobacco can turn into a life-long addiction that can be extremely hard to break. Discuss with your adolescent the very serious health risks that are associated with smoking, including heart disease, cancer, and decreased physical activity, as well as the more unattractive physical qualities that smokers have, including bad breath, stained teeth, and a long-term cough.
  8. Know the 4“W’s”—who, what, when, where. Always know who your teen is hanging out with, what they will be doing, when and for how long they will be out, and where they will be. And check up on them. Be aware of the dangers that can arise at teenage parties. Teen parties present an opportunity to your teen to experiment with alcohol or tobacco. One approach is to host the party so you have more control over ensuring that these parties stay safe and fun for everyone involved. Make sure you review the rules with your teen before the party. No "crashers" allowed. No tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs. No one can leave the party and then return. Make sure your teen knows that you expect them to act responsibly. Exit Disclaimer
  9. Be aware of your teen’s mental health. Help teens increase their self esteem; taking on new challenges will help build confidence and demonstrate their strengths. Watch your child for signs of depression and stress. If your child appears sad, withdrawn, or suddenly dislikes going to school or hanging out with friends, he or she may be suffering from depression. Teens who participate in risky behaviors-- including sex, alcohol, and drugs-- are at a higher risk of depression. Make sure you talk to your teen about their feelings, or ask them to talk with a health professional, school counselor, or trusted adult.
  10. Talk about sex. Even though you may not want to talk to your teen about sexual issues, if your teen is like most teens, they want you to. Teens who feel connected to their parents are more likely to have their first sexual experience later than teens who are not so well connected to their parents. Teach your teenager that only abstinence is 100 percent effective against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. If you think your child is sexually active or thinking about having sex, discuss how to practice safe sex through condoms and other forms of contraception. Remind them that condoms are the only method of birth control that can reduce the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease.
  11. Encourage injury prevention. Your teenager should wear a helmet and protective gear when bicycling, riding a motorcycle, playing contact sports, using in-line skates, or riding a skateboard. Use of safety equipment can reduce injuries and even save your teenager’s life. Because 80 percent of lifetime sun exposure occurs in childhood, it’s important for parents to help their children practice sun safety. Just one blistering sunburn in childhood can double a child’s risk of developing skin cancer later in life. Teach your child about sun safety, including staying inside during midday when the sun is the hottest; wearing a hat and sunglasses when outside; and applying sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher frequently. Tanning beds should be avoided.
  12. Talk to your children about the dangers of illicit drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol are more available to teens than you may be aware. It can be difficult for your child to "just say no" to drugs and alcohol. Young people who don't know the facts about tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs are at greater risk of trying them. Your child may be interested in using drugs as a way to fit in or as a way to deal with the pressures of adolescence. Build your child's self-esteem with praise and support for decisions. A strong sense of self-worth will help your child to say no to drugs and alcohol--and mean it. Plan to discuss a wide variety of topics with your child including alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs and the need for peer-group acceptance. You're the best role model for your child, so avoid tobacco, alcohol abuse, or other drugs yourself. Take a stand against drug issues — your child will listen.


Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other press materials are available at

Last revised: January 10, 2008