Empowering Teens As Health Advocates
To launch 2018 Teen Health Week, a global initiative focused on helping teens take charge of their health, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) has developed activities that recognize the importance of immunization and encourage parents to empower their children to become the next generation of health advocates. Special thanks to NFID Executive Director & CEO, Marla Dalton, CAE, for this guest blog post on the value of engaging teens in their own health decisions.
As a parent of active teenage twin girls, I try to protect them as much as possible (while wishing they weren’t growing up so fast!) I teach them to take basic safety precautions—like using seat belts in the car and wearing helmets when biking or skiing—and encourage them to develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime. Staying healthy and active is very important to all of us, so we try to eat right and get enough sleep, and we encourage them to stay fit through team sports (despite the challenges of shuttling them to and from soccer, basketball, and softball practices and games!) And when they are listening, we talk about the importance of staying up-to-date on recommended vaccines to help prevent serious health problems.
Vaccines aren’t just for babies—preteens, teens, and adults all need vaccines, too. And we can all play a role in discussing the value of vaccines with friends and loved ones. Below are five key reasons why vaccination is a priority for my teens:
- Thanks largely to vaccines, many infectious diseases are now rare in the US; however, recent outbreaks of measles have occurred as a result of infected individuals traveling on vacation or vaccine refusal based on rumors about vaccine safety circulating in local communities. Just this month, visitors to three major airports may have been exposed to measles after cases were confirmed in two international travelers. As a family, we love to travel and certainly do not want to worry about infectious diseases while on exciting travel adventures!
- I want to protect my teens against potentially debilitating diseases that could impact their entire lives, or even result in death. Why would I take a chance if a short visit to their healthcare provider and a quick and easy shot can help protect them? There are too many stories about vaccine-preventable illnesses and deaths and there is strong scientific evidence that shows vaccines are safe and effective.
- Surrounding yourself by others who are vaccinated helps prevent the spread of infection, a phenomenon known as community immunity. Timely vaccination helps keep our families and communities protected against infectious diseases. And none of us want to get sick—missing time from work or school is always an unwelcome roadblock is our busy lives!
- In a few short years, they will be heading off to college and vaccines can help protect them from diseases that are more easily spread on college campuses. The increased risk occurs when students live in close quarters, spend time in large groups, and participate in behaviors like kissing or sharing drinks. In recent years, flu, mumps, and meningitis outbreaks have occurred on college campuses around the US. Last week, thousands of individuals from 39 states and 9 countries, were exposed to mumps at a cheerleading competition.
- I’m teaching my children to become responsible for their own health. As parents, we know that we cannot be there to keep our children safe 24 hours a day. Of course, my kids are fully vaccinated and we have had several discussions about vaccines and the diseases they prevent. My hope is that by engaging my children in conversations about important health topics, they will be empowered to continue these conversations throughout their lives, ultimately taking charge and responsibility of their own health.
As part of the engagement process, each year, my twins help to promote flu awareness by dressing up as NFID Flu Bug mascots during public outreach events, including Major League Baseball games, Major League Soccer games, and Vote & Vax programs. They also serve as an informal ‘focus group’ to provide advice on NFID campaigns targeting teens. I am also proud to say that they have become full-fledged advocates in encouraging their friends to practice healthy behaviors as well. Improving teen engagement in their own health is key to preventing serious and deadly infectious diseases and empowering them to build healthy habits for life.
To learn more about recommended adolescent vaccines, visit: www.adolescentvaccination.org.
To join the conversation, follow NFID on Twitter using the hashtags #2018TeenHealth and #TeenHealthWeek, like us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram, join the NFID Linkedin Group, and subscribe to NFID Updates.