Deep inside youth
When children are becoming adolescents, they experience physical changes that are more accelerated than mental ones and that condition transforms them into "high-risk individuals"
When children approach adolescence, humorous comments are in order; however, people also warn about that new stage of life. Some friends might say "be prepared for what is about to come!"
In fact, parents have many questions and even fear when their children are going through that period that extends from 12 to 19 years of age. But, is there any reason for concern? Is adolescence truly so terrible? Are we prepared for its demands? Will we deal with it correctly?
Doctor Francisco Valery, president of the Venezuelan Society of Infectology, points out that when children are becoming adolescents, they experience physical changes that are more accelerated than mental ones and that condition transforms them into "high-risk individuals."
Valery explains that "the most important changes that take place in individuals throughout their lives occur basically at that age." In their fist years, "children grow in size and weight and acquire psychomotor abilities that prepare them for their future development; but in adolescence, physical changes are more radical and adolescents are not fully prepared to deal with them."
At this stage, physical changes both in boys and girls begin to occur, including changes in voice and muscular structure, breast development, acne, growth of pubic hair and, among other features, secondary sexual characters manifest," Dr. Valery explains.
The adolescent physical appearance "becomes blurred," he comments smiling; "They are like gawky men or women with very long arms and legs; this process of adjustment and harmonization of their bodies lasts about two years."
To these physical or structural changes "a more significant change, which many times gives rise to more problems, adds: mental change; adolescents begin to look for their own identity; contradictions, questioning and doubts appear. Furthermore, some behaviors and decisions they might make render them risk individuals."
In other words, Valery states, adolescents acquire the "physical capability of performing a series of activities for which they are not mentally prepared." This is the case of the introduction to sexual life and the ability to conceive, which brings about the possibility of contracting diseases (HIV and others equally contagious and dangerous), getting hooked to alcohol, cigarette, and drugs and driving at high speed.
Adolescents, he underscores, "develop risk behaviors because they feel capable of anything; there are no brakes, inhibitions; then, when they feel indestructible, risks multiply."
Yes, I'm talking to you
Valery is pediatrician infectologist at Elías Toro Hospital and has three children, two of them, adolescent. For both reasons, he thought, along with his interdisciplinary team of physicians, that more than launching a specific campaign for young people on the occasion of the World AIDS Day, as they had been doing, it was better to launch a broader and longer-term campaign, because "adolescents are the most important component of our future, since in less than two decades, the fate of the country and our society will be in their hands."
He refers that in 2010, the Venezuelan Society of Infectology closed an alliance with Mark-Com Corporation, a marketing and communication firm, to coordinate and launch that campaign intended for Venezuelan adolescents; the campaign was called "Tenemos algo que decirte" (We have something to tell you).
María Alejandra Redondo, commercial manager of the firm, warns that since the launching of the campaign, many conferences have been held, as well as workshops for parents and adolescents; in addition, theater plays have been staged, with the aim of responding to concerns typical of that age.
The campaign deals with 10 key points related to adolescence, including HIV, acne, addiction to drugs and alcohol, smoking, early pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, violence among adolescents, addiction to technology, nutrition (anorexia and obesity) and preventative driving (car accidents).
"In general terms, it has been demonstrated that in developed countries, the implementation of educational programs that provide information and services for the young population have contributed to control HIV infections, pregnancy, malnutrition, smoking, and drugs."
Redondo commented pleased that this campaign was initially supported by the Venezuelan Society of Pulmonology and the Venezuelan Society of Health Psychology, as well as the pharmaceutical industry, medical laboratories and private companies. But at present, the Societies of Microbiology, Well-Child Care and Pediatrics, and Obstetrics have joined forces.
Words and action
Certainly, being an adolescent today, in this century and in this country, is very different to the education and experiences of many parents, Valery notes. It suffices to mention HIV virus, lack of personal security in Venezuela and limitations and fears at the time of socializing and going to parties; addiction to technology, which not only implies spending hours before the computer screen, but is also related to the content of messages on the Internet; the exposure to particular data and information before unknown and bad people, drugs.
But adolescence is also recognized as a unique, vital and happy phase. A period when decisions have to be made, new people are met, when you laugh at anything; live a carefree time of trips and excursions. However, Valery sustains that for that transition to be pleasantly remembered, it should be accompanied with "principles and values" that should be instilled since the early childhood, not only through words, but also through examples.
Translated by Álix Hernández