Most parents know when their kids reach the preteen and teen years, frank discussions about drugs, alcohol, tobacco and sex are necessary and beneficial.
But a new survey of teenagers across America makes it clear that two other topics should be discussed around the proverbial kitchen table -- human growth hormone and steroid use.
This is not a gender specific topic, either. Boys and girls are both using HGH in particular at an alarming rate, according to the survey released this week by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.
The confidential 2013 survey of 3,705 high school students reports that 11 percent said they used synthetic human growth hormones at least once -- up 5 percent from the four preceding annual surveys. In addition, use of steroids has increased from 5 percent to 7 percent.
"It's what you get when you combine aggressive promotion from for-profit companies with a vulnerable target -- kids who want a quick fix and don't care about health risk," said Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, as reported by the Associated Press.
As we have sought better controls over the marketing of electronic cigarettes, we also agree with Tygart's agency that stricter controls are necessary on these drugs and supplements, especially when it comes to marketing to children. But the best defense against abuse is still at home.
"It's not about illegality, or whether you're a good parent or a bad parent. It's a health issue. These substances literally alter your body," said Steve Pasierb, president of the group that administered the survey. "(Teens are using these substances to) get ahead. Girls want to be thin and toned. For a lot of boys, it's about their six-pack."
According to the AP story published Wednesday in the Daily Herald, potential hazards and side-effects as listed by the Mayo Clinic include stunted growth, acne, liver problems, shrunken testicles for boys and excess facial hair for girls. Parents are told to be on the lookout for warning signs of abuse, such as increased aggressiveness, rapid weight gain and needle marks in the buttocks or thighs.
These days, it almost seems overwhelming the ways teens can go awry. Parents must keep an eye on their kids' phones, email and computers while also doing their best to make sure they hang out with a good group of friends and stay busy with activities. Oh, and they have the age-old duty to make sure their children are keeping up with their studies.
While it might be easier to just shrug and say this is just one more thing among many, it's clear this threat is real. Not paying attention to it could be very detrimental to the long-term health of our children.