With a new school year upon us, Pediatrician Dr. Ed Lewis offers advice for parents aimed at keeping kids healthy and safe.
1. Promote internet safety. Computers are a great resource for children and families, but parents must keep careful watch over how their children are using the internet.
- Keep the computer in a room where you can easily monitor its use.
- Establish rules for its use. Children should understand what is considered an appropriate site, what is off limits, and that they should never share personal information online. Consider installing software that filters or blocks offensive sites and material.
2. Watch for bullying. It can happen on the bus, on the playground, in the classroom, and even online. Talk with your kids about what is going on in school. Be involved and know who their friends are so you’ll be “in the know” when it comes to how they feel and how they’re treating others. Teach them how to respond if they are bullied, and how to react in a positive and firm manner. Always encourage them to tell a trusted adult if they’re being bullied or if they’ve witnessed bullying behavior.
3. Strive for health in body and mind.
- Help them get a good night’s sleep. Sleep is the best medicine for a lot of things, especially for teens. With normal school hours, sports practice, band concerts, and other after-school activities—not to mention homework—it is critical for students to get proper rest. At least 11 to 12 hours of sleep will help them absorb and retain what they’re learning, boosting their overall academic performance.
- Nourish them. Studies show that kids who eat breakfast have more energy and a better attention span. You should also know what your child eats throughout the day. If they buy lunch, check your school cafeteria’s menu so you’ll know if your child is getting the right nutrients.
4. Keep them safe, riding and walking. Whether your child takes a bus or walks to and from school, reinforce the basic rules to ensure they get there and back safely.
- Children should know where their bus stop is and should understand the signals their driver uses for crossing in front of the bus.
- If your child walks to school, walk the route together before the school year starts. Talk with other parents in the neighborhood to find out if their child is a walker and if your children can walk to school together. There should be a well-trained crossing guard at every intersection.
- Establish a “safe word” with your family, to use when your child has to be picked up from school. If they don’t recognize the person who comes to pick them up they can make sure it’s safe by asking them for the word.
5. Lighten their load. An overloaded backpack may have long-term consequences on a child’s back and posture. Be aware of how much your child is carrying in his or her bag. Backpacks should have wide, padded shoulder straps that help support the back. Wearing both straps at all times will help avoid muscle strains.
Edward Lewis, M.D., is a pediatrician at Lewis Pediatrics and a clinical associate professor of pediatrics at UR Medicine’s Golisano Children’s Hospital.