Clean Machine: Improving Kids’ Hygiene

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The way kids look has consequences. When a girl’s hair is dirty and tangled or when a boy’s body smells, it sends a message.

Carolyn Waldrup of Nashville is tired of picking up her son’s socks. Fifteen-year-old Colby says it’s no big deal and that he just forgets. That just really irks his mom.

“They stink!” Waldrup says.”And I feel like I repeat myself all of the time to him, too. Pick up your socks, pick up your socks. It’s really frustrating.” The worst part is the socks smell because Colby wears them over and over before washing. For teenagers, hormones create body odors, so it’s no wonder that Colby’s room smells like socks.

What’s a mom to do?

It’s a basic hygiene issue, says Alan Greene, M.D., author and founder of Drgreene.com, a Web site dedicated to pediatric advice.”Encourage ‘tweens and teens to get into the habit of showering every day,” says Greene. He also suggests teens shower after activities that work up a sweat – even if it means two showers a day. Encourage clean clothes, socks and underwear each day.

You really have to stay after some kids, Greene points out. While some may be fastidious about washing their face and hair – especially girls who enjoy preening earlier than boys do – others may not care about being clean.

Girls typically begin to have underarm odor and perspiration any time after their eighth birthday and boys anytime after they turn 9. Once perspiration and oily skin begin, parents can let their senses be the guide. When it comes to hygiene, the critical message is to make choices not based on the sex of the child or on his age, but on the child’s skin and hair type and the stage of his maturation.

Deodorants get rid of body odor by covering it up, and antiperspirants actually stop or dry up perspiration. There’s no specific age at which kids can start using it, but they should read the directions. Some work better if they’re used at night, whereas others recommend application in the morning.

And what about acne? Greene says it isn’t related to hygiene, but rather to development. Gently washing the face twice a day is useful for those beginning to show signs of acne.”But up to 30 percent of teens wash their faces five times a day! This is not helpful and can be damaging to the skin,” he adds.

One important conversation that parents can have with their teens to increase their desire to be clean and look good is one that can be held on a case-by-case basis: We all have to learn that our appearances affect others’ impressions of us. As your teen gets older, he’ll need to realize that how he looks and … well … smells, has consequences. That brief message may be all it takes to motivate your ‘tween or teen toward better hygiene habits. But be careful how the message is delivered: Kids will shut you off if you sound like you’re preaching!

Jenna Hawkins is a freelance writer.

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