Children’s Health

How can I help my children reduce their risk of sport injuries?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have a fourth-grader and a middle-schooler. Both enjoy playing sports. Is there anything I can do to reduce their risk of sports injuries?

DEAR READER: You ask an important question. Injuries that result from youth sports are becoming more common -- and the injuries aren't just the expected bumps and bruises that come with being active, either. Doctors are seeing more serious injuries, some of which can lead to lifelong disability. At the same time, regular exercise is really important to a child's health. It also sets patterns for exercise when kids become adults, and that's important to their health later in life.

Is it ok for my toddler to play with my iPad?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have an 18-month-old who loves to play on my iPad. I think it's fine; my wife doesn't. What are your thoughts?

DEAR READER: The only thing I can say for sure is that I'd rather have your toddler play with your iPad than with mine. Seriously, you've asked an important question, because we see it everywhere: babies and toddlers playing with their parents' tablets or smartphones. Parents use these devices to entertain their children, and in the hope of helping them to learn.

What can I expect when my son goes through puberty?

DEAR DOCTOR K: What can I expect when my son goes through puberty?

DEAR READER: I'm tempted to reply: "You don't want to know." Then again, you wrote me expecting an answer, so here goes. There are hormonal changes during puberty. In addition, the brain still is growing and developing; it is not yet the adult brain. There are things the adult brain does that the adolescent brain often does not do -- like think twice before doing something.

How do I discourage my teen from trying marijuana?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have a teenager, and I'm worried he might try marijuana. I'd like to give my teen some facts about marijuana that will make him think twice about using it. What can I tell him?

DEAR READER: You've asked an important and timely question. Marijuana use is on the rise, especially among teens. It's easier to get than many other drugs -- and cheaper.

What is Tourette syndrome?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My grandson was recently diagnosed with Tourette syndrome. Could you explain what this is? What can I do to help him?

DEAR READER: Twenty years ago, I got into a cab at the hospital, heading for the airport. The driver was a man in his 30s who liked to talk. About every 30 seconds as he talked, he would clear his throat. It was not a gentle sound -- you could have heard it several hundred yards away.

How can I tell if my son has a learning disability?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I think my son may have a learning disability. How can I tell if there really is a problem?

DEAR READER: Most kids have some difficulty in school at one time or another, and usually it's nothing to worry about. Sometimes, though, it can be a sign of a learning disability. "Learning disability" is a broad term that can cover different types of problems. A child with a learning disability may have a hard time receiving, organizing, remembering or using information.

What is the best treatment option for scoliosis?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My granddaughter has scoliosis. What is the best treatment option for this condition?

DEAR READER: For readers who may not be familiar with the condition, I'll start by explaining what scoliosis is. Normally, when you look at a person's spine, it appears straight. With scoliosis, the spine typically curves out to one side and then back again. Or it may have two bowed-out areas, resembling an S shape. Here you'll find an illustration of a normal spine and a spine curved by scoliosis:

How do I make time-outs effective when disciplining my child?

DEAR DOCTOR K: You've mentioned time-outs as an appropriate way to discipline young children. But they don't work for my son, at least the way I'm doing them. What can I do differently?

DEAR READER: When children are young, discipline means teaching them self-control and the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. One way to do this is with a time-out.

How can I protect my middle schooler from cyberbullying?

DEAR DOCTOR K:My daughter will be starting middle school this year. How can I protect her from cyberbullying?

DEAR READER: Bullying can be particularly difficult during middle and high school, when popularity and peer acceptance feel like the most important parts of life. Adding technology to the mix makes it worse still. Cyberbullying is not simply bullying that takes place through electronic means.

What do I need to know about my son’s video games?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My son plays a lot of video games. What do I need to know about them? And how can I make sure they don't become a problem?

DEAR READER: I've yet to meet a child who doesn't like video games. But as you imply, this kind of entertainment has its downsides. I've talked with several colleagues who are pediatricians here at Harvard Medical School, and they've helped me answer your question.