Children’s Health

Could my teen be addicted to her smartphone?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My teenage daughter jokingly said she's "addicted" to her smartphone. I didn't find her remark funny because there's too much truth to what she said. Do I have a valid cause for concern?

DEAR READER: Real addiction -- such as to narcotics -- causes changes in brain chemistry. I'm not aware that such changes have been shown for smartphones. But regular users of smartphones (of any age) surely can become very dependent on their phones -- and very anxious when they are not able to use their phones for even a few hours.

Can teens help prevent diabetes through exercise?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My teenage son doesn't like sports or exercise. Diabetes runs in our family. You say exercise protects against diabetes and is valuable even in young adults. Can you give me some ammunition to convince my teenager to exercise?

DEAR READER: Perfect timing: A new study has been published that provides an answer. Most studies of exercise have been in adults, often older adults. Until this recent study, there wasn't a lot of information about teenagers.

How can I help my teen to get more sleep?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My teenage daughter stays up late, then has a hard time waking up for school. I don't think she's getting enough sleep. What can I do to help her fall asleep at a reasonable time?

DEAR READER: Not getting enough sleep can have serious consequences. This is especially true for children and adolescents, whose developing brains are very sensitive to insufficient sleep. Teens need as much sleep as do adults, maybe more. They need eight to 10 hours for optimal function, but studies have found that few get this much sleep.

What should I feed my baby if I need to avoid rice cereal?

DEAR DOCTOR K: You recently wrote about the dangers of feeding rice cereal to babies. Can you tell me more about this? What should I give my baby instead?

DEAR READER: For years, rice cereal has been a go-to food for parents when they start their babies on solid foods. My Harvard Medical School colleague Dr. Claire McCarthy, a primary care pediatrician at Boston Children's Hospital, says it's time to change that.

Are ADHD medications safe and effective?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My daughter has ADHD. I have heard conflicting reports about ADHD medication for kids. Please tell me, is it safe and does it work?

DEAR READER: ADHD stands for "attention deficit hyperactivity disorder." Children with ADHD have trouble paying attention and are impulsive and hyperactive. These symptoms can get in their way and make it harder for them to function at school and at home. ADHD also interferes with a child's ability to form and keep friendships.

Can exposing babies to common food allergens help prevent food allergies later on?

DEAR DOCTOR K: In a recent column you said that parents should give babies peanut products to help prevent peanut allergies. Does the new advice also apply to other common food allergens, like eggs or cow's milk?

DEAR READER: To answer your question I turned to my colleague Dr. Claire McCarthy, a primary care pediatrician at Boston Children's Hospital. For decades, the standard advice recommended by allergy specialists was to hold off on giving babies foods that commonly cause allergic reactions. Parents were advised not to give egg, dairy, seafood or wheat in their child's first year. And parents were told to wait until two or three years to give peanuts or other nut products. It turns out that was bad advice.

Could my daughter have anorexia?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm worried about my 15-year-old daughter. She eats like a bird. She is very thin, but thinks she is fat. I'd like to think this is just a phase some teenagers go through, but could she have anorexia nervosa?

DEAR READER: As with most illnesses, there is not a magic dividing line between having anorexia and not. In fact, there's a big gray zone where people don't meet the criteria for a disease, yet they're not normal, either. An example is "pre-diabetes." Tens of millions of people in the United States have blood sugar levels that are not high enough to be called diabetes, but also aren't normal. It's important to recognize them, because such people have a higher risk for developing diabetes in the future.

What can I feed my baby?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I thought I knew what solid foods to give my baby, and when to give them. But the recommendations seem to change constantly. What do I need to know?

DEAR READER: To make sure I had the most current information, I spoke to my colleague Dr. Claire McCarthy, a primary care pediatrician at Harvard-affiliated Boston Children's Hospital. She said that most dietary advice has remained the same. For example, wait until your baby is at least 4 months old before starting solids, and introduce one new food at a time.

Can children benefit from yoga?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My 8-year-old daughter has expressed an interest in taking a yoga class, but I don't want to waste my money. Can children really benefit from yoga?

DEAR READER: Yes, they can. I spoke to Dr. Marlynn Wei, who is a psychiatrist, certified yoga teacher, and author of the upcoming Harvard Medical School Guide to Yoga. She noted that yoga and mindfulness (a related practice) have been shown to improve both physical and mental health in children.