Teens & Hygiene - How do we talk to them about it and how do you get them to care?
As a parent, it’s our job to help teach our kids about the importance of personal hygiene. We often believe kids will inherently know when their bodies are changing and will know what to do next- this is not the truth or reality! We, the parents, will most likely be the first ones to notice that things are changing. One day your child will come into the house as if nothing has changed, the next day they will come in, take off their shoes and your mud room will never be the same. I’m sure there are many of you out there that can relate to the first time you noticed that it was time for the hygiene conversation. I remember the first time I was exposed to the side effects of puberty. We were picking up my step daughter from field hockey practice and 10 seconds after she got in the car my window was rolled all the way down and my head was out, gasping for air, like a dog gasping for sunshine. She was 12.
This leads to the next question, what age do we need to have the conversation and when can we expect to see these changes in our teens and pre-teen bodies? I will answer with every child it is different. I have friends who have noticed body odour in their little ones as early as 9 and some as late as 14. The secret is to be on the lookout and paying close attention, especially when they are active. Although my son is active at 11, he doesn’t have body odour yet but is showing signs of oilier skin. The point being side effects of puberty can show up at different times. They may need to take preventative acne care earlier than the need for deodorant and vice versus. Everyone is different; however, I would suggest start paying attention as early as 9 and expect it to fall between 9-12 years.
Once you have determined that the time is right to have the conversation, the question then becomes, how to do you get them to care and actually follow thru on taking care of their hygiene? As kids get older, they become more concerned about what their peers think and will be more open to take care of themselves to avoid the humiliation that can come with less than ideal hygiene. Kids can be cruel and other kids know it. Kids with poor hygiene face consequences which not only can include medical issues but more damaging effects to their self-esteem. For the younger kids 9-12, this group may not be as affected by their peers, so it is our job to convince them that it is in their best interest to practice good self-care, which includes proper hygiene.
Next question is where do you start? How can you give your preteens responsibility for their own hygiene? And how can you get your teens, who, let's be honest, stinks, to shower every day without relentless nagging?
Good Teen Hygiene
Here’s the rundown on what should be discussed with your teens and pre-teens:
Most elementary school kids don't shower every day, and they don't necessarily need to. However, once puberty hits, daily showering becomes essential. Suggest concentrating on the face, hands, feet, underarms, groin and bottom. Natural products, which are gentler by nature, can be easier on teens sensitive skin, especially when showering everyday can be drying.
Some teens may prefer to skip washing hair every day to prevent their hair from drying out. Others may want to wash their hair daily, especially if they have oily hair, which can both look greasy and aggravate skin breakouts. Oily hair can also result in excess dandruff, keep an eye out for this.
We all have active sweat glands, however, when puberty hits, the glands become more active and the chemical composition of the sweat changes, causing it to smell stronger. Using deodorant with sweat absorbing qualities (not antiperspirant) should become part of their daily teen hygiene. If they are reluctant or keep forgetting, gently reminding them that they may not notice the smell, but everyone around them, including their classmates, will notice the smell. It is common courtesy to practice good hygiene, like wearing deodorant, when working in close quarters, such as a class room.
Before puberty, your kid might have gotten away with wearing the same shirt, the same underwear and yes, the same socks day after day without anyone noticing. After puberty, that won't fly anymore. Get your teen to understand that along with showering, wearing clean clothes each day is an important part of teen hygiene. Point out that cotton clothes may absorb sweat better than other materials.
Getting your child in the habit of washing their face at an early age, around 10, is smart in setting them up for lifelong good skin. Along with encouraging a healthy diet of reduced sugar, which can cause acne, encouraging your child to wash their face morning and night with a gently, yet an effective blemish preventing cleanser will help keep acne at bay. Make sure your teen understands not to wash too vigorously, even if their skin is oily. Trying to scrub off the oil will just leave the skin irritated and will result in an over production of oil.
Shaving and hair removal
When you notice hair on your son's upper lip or on your daughter's legs, you can offer a brief course on razor use. Whether or not he or she wants to shave yet, at least you've provided the information. Girls may also be interested in hair removal products. You can go over the options.
Maintaining good oral health
Teens can get pretty lax about their oral hygiene. But brushing and flossing are crucial, especially if they're drinking sugary, acidic sodas and sports drinks. It's not only about tooth decay, but bad breath. Nobody wants bad breath!
Here is what you can do to help your teens adopt better hygiene habits:
Make good hygiene a responsibility
If your teen is resistant to the basics, like showering or using deodorant, don't just nag or plead. Explain that taking care of their body is a responsibility, and start treating it like his other household duties. Just as they have a responsibility to keep their rooms clean, they now have a responsibility to look after their hygiene. If they don’t, there should be clear repercussions, like revoked privileges.
Talk with your kids
Explain to your kids that they need to care for themselves because they are on the verge of adulthood. Within a few years they will be dating or living with roommates, and good hygiene will really matter. Remember to be empathetic as puberty is a very confusing time and they may have questions they are shy to talk about. Be open minded and give them space to ask. They could also completely resist your attempts to talk about it. They may protest, roll their eyes and insist on not hearing any of it. But I assure you, press on and don’t give up. They will thank-you down the road.
Be a role model
If you practice good hygiene and self-care, the chances of your child following suit are much higher than not.
Get some professional backup
When all else fails, make your family doctor an ally. You can always ask your doctor to discuss or reinforce certain hygiene issues before an appointment. To date my kids have been receptive to the conversations yet when it came to talk about the importance of good posture, it took our family sports medicine doctor to really hit home with the importance standing tall. We as parents don’t always have the answers and we may not always get thru and interventions with our trusted advisors can help.