Talking with Teens about Prom

Talking with Teens about Prom

Parents and health care providers all want the same thing for kids  – for them to make healthy, safe and smart choices. As adults, there are many times when we are faced with moments when we know our own behavior as a teen differed from how we are telling teens they should behave. Prom is likely one of those moments. From the dance itself to the after-prom parties, we know (and may have participated in) some of the less-than-safe behaviors that can take place. So how can we help our teens make safe(er) and smart(er) choices?

First of all, don’t wait to have important conversations, or limit those conversations only to special events. Discussions about behavioral expectations should be taking place all the time. Curfew, driving, drinking, sex and drugs are all topics that should have been covered before. It is important to find out what the teen’s expectations are as well as inform them of your expectations.  While some family rules, like curfew, may be loosened for a special event like prom, you shouldn’t change your message regarding expectations like safety, underage drinking and sexual activity.  And if you feel like a broken record at times, take heart that research indicates that teens do actually listen. In one study by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), they found that when parents used a clear “no-use” message, teens were 80 percent less likely to drink. 

Second, find out the plan for the evening.  Knowing certain details – who is driving, the location of the after-prom party and what adults will be there – is important. Some parents even insist on an established check-in schedule (e.g. call/text home when leaving dance; call/text home when leaving party; call/text if locations change, etc.). And, after finding out the plans for the evening, take time to discuss back-up plans. This can help your teen feel empowered when faced with peer pressure situations and allow him or her to maintain a thoughtful reaction to a variety of situations. Together, talk about different common scenarios that can occur – “what happens if the person who is driving drinks?”; “what if your date pressures you to drink/have sex/try drugs?”; “what do you do if someone in the group changes plans and you’re not comfortable with the suggestions?”; and so forth. Be careful not to tell them what to do, instead, encourage them to problem solve and together talk through back-up plans. And, make sure they know under any circumstance, they can call you.

While discussing expectations and plans, it is important to remind teenagers that many decisions can have lasting consequences.  Obvious consequences include car accidents after drunk driving, and pregnancy or infections after unprotected sex. However, there are risks that we adults did not necessarily encounter when we went to prom. With the proliferation of social media sites, it’s even more important to be aware and thoughtful of what information is shared. Incriminating pictures can have lasting (and even legal) repercussions. It’s certainly important to capture photo reminders of the amazing evening, but encourage them to be thoughtful of just how much and with whom they share.

And, while statistics should never justify negative behaviors, it is important to recognize that roughly 63% of U.S. teenagers have had sex by the time they graduate and 79% have tried alcohol, according to the Center for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Having conversations with teens before they find themselves confronted with difficult scenarios can help empower them to reduce risky behaviors and make safer choices.

Talking with Teens about Prom
About Paula Cody, MD, MPH
Dr. Paula Cody is fellowship trained in adolescent medicine and is a pediatrician at the UW Health John Stephenson Teenage and Young Adult Clinic.
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Posted in Parenting, Safety | Tagged , ,

Picky Eating

 Picky EatingPicky eating is often a stage that everyone experiences. It is often associated with period of rebellion or identity formation. Encouraging picky eaters to try new foods can be a trying process for parents and definitely requires patience. Researchers have shared that it takes at least 13 times for an individual to accept a new food, and that food must be in the same shape and form every time.  For example, if one desires their child to try raw baby carrots, then one must present the child with raw baby carrots every time, no cooked carrots, sliced carrots, or shredded carrots, etc.  Once one form of the fruit or vegetable is acceptable then it is safe to move on to new forms. 

Also, many times there is more to picky eating than just a rebellious act. Autism spectrum disorder is highly associated with oral sensitivities and this includes aversions to certain textures, colors, feelings, etc. For these highly sensitive individuals it is important to start slow and grant them control and choice in the matter. Perhaps a first step would be to set the new food on a plate next to the child’s plate. The next step would be to set the food on their plate. Then, perhaps one invites the child to touch or smell the food. All of these steps come before daring to ask the child to taste the food.

The final strategy to combatting picky eating is to invite the child into the process and allow them to choose the new food and then join you at the grocery store to pick it out. Then, when it comes time to prepare the new food invite them to cook it with you, or at least wash it for you. They may also want to look up why this new food is a healthy addition of their family so, they can teach others why they chose it.

Again, picky eating can be a troublesome period, but a parent’s dedication to expanding their child’s palate will benefit them greatly the rest of their lives. 

April Recipe: Greek Yogurt Vegetable Dip


  • 18 ounce container Fat free Plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 Tablespoons shallot, minced
  • 1 teaspoon parsley, dried
  • 1 teaspoon dill, dried
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • Pepper, to taste

Mince the shallot.

Measure out remaining ingredients and mix until combined.

Chill for at least 1 hour; serve cold.


Picky Eating
About Cassie Vanderwall, MS, RD, CD, CDE, CPT
Cassie Vanderwall is a registered dietitian, certified personal trainer and certified diabetes educator at the UW Health Pediatric Fitness Clinic and Pediatric Diabetes Clinic. Cassie is passionate about empowering families by equipping them with the tools they need to achieve a healthier life.
View all posts by Cassie Vanderwall, MS, RD, CD, CDE, CPT
Posted in Nutrition, Parenting | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Get Ahead of the Game: Schedule Your Child’s Sports Physical Early

Soccer PlayerScheduling a child’s school or sports physical can be a tricky task if put off until the last minute.

What many parents don’t know is that they can schedule these exams now and avoid the push for appointments that comes in August. While local clinics make every attempt to accommodate the demand, each new school year they see a heavy volume of students needing physicals for sports, kindergarten registration, and other periodic check-ups.

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) requires physicals for students involved in interscholastic athletics. A physical card signed by a physician must be on file at your child’s school before he or she is able to participate in sports practices or events. A physical must be completed no less than every other school year, with April 1 as the earliest date of examination, so exams scheduled now are valid for the following two school years. An athlete’s health is about much more than treating injuries as they arise.  It’s also about prevention: helping an athlete optimize their overall health and identifying risk factors so that we can prevent injury with strengthening or other appropriate interventions.   A sports pre-participation exam helps to ensure that the athlete is as healthy as possible going into the season, while identifying and treating any medical problems that might limit safe participation, such as asthma or heart disease. The preparticipation exam is also a great opportunity to talk with adolescents and screen for substance abuse problems, mental health issues, and school difficulties. 

Sports and other activity screening examinations include a pre-visit questionnaire to be completed by the athlete and parent, which reviews the athlete’s medical and family history. Pre-participation exams are performed by nurse practitioners or physicians, and a physician signs the card to complete the process. 

Pre-participation Physical Evaluation History Form (pdf)

Regardless of participation in sports, all adolescents should be checked every one to two years for routine health screenings and monitoring of growth and puberty.  Discussion of risk behaviors that many adolescents encounter is also an important part of these visits and can be a confidential way for adolescents to discuss preventing such risk behaviors.  Routine physicals are also important for younger school-aged children, who should have a health supervision visit every one to two years after the age of five.  Children and adolescents who use medications on a regular basis or who have medical conditions such as asthma, allergies, or recurrent infections may be need to be seen more often for the best management of their conditions and medications.  Lastly, physicals are also a good time for doctors to check your child’s immunization records and ensure that your child is up-to-date to ensure the best protection to keep your child healthy. 

Call your pediatrician’s office to schedule a sports physical now and beat the summer rush!

Get Ahead of the Game: Schedule Your Child’s Sports Physical Early
About Brittany Allen, MD
Dr. Allen is a pediatrician at UW Health University Station. Her special interests include preventive pediatric care, adolescent health and care of LGBT and transgender youth.
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Posted in Parenting, Prevention | Tagged , , , ,

Keep Fruits and Veggies Available


Everyone knows that fruit and vegetables are a key part of a healthy diet, but there are often many barriers to keeping them available.

Fruit and vegetables are loaded with fiber, water, and vitamins and minerals. A variety of fruit and vegetables is important because each type and color offers a different array of antioxidants and vitamins. Current recommendations encourage 5 to 9 servings of fruit and vegetables per day, or 2 to 4 servings of fruit and 3 to 5 servings of vegetables. One serving equals 1 cup of fresh or ½ cup of cooked or canned. 

A few common barriers to keeping these valuable foods in the home include: 

The family does not like fruit and vegetables, or perhaps everyone likes different types.

Most people enjoy a variety of fruit because of their sweet flavors, however finding vegetables that the whole family can enjoy can be quite a task. Vegetables tend to have more bitter flavors, which instinctually we associated with poisons, unless at a young age we learn otherwise. This is why it is critical to introduce vegetables first to infants before fruit. Don’t give up hope if you have a household of picky eaters. Invite everyone in on the task of having 1 to 2 vegetables at dinner. Ask each member of the family to pick the vegetables for the week. Often times when children recognize that they have a choice and control in the manner they are more likely to try new things.

Fruit and vegetables are expensive.

The cost of fruit and vegetables fluctuate according to their peak season and thus shopping according to season for fresh fruit and vegetables is critical for pinching pennies. 

Winter: Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celery, onions, leeks, potatoes, pumpkins, greens and squash

Spring: Asparagus, beets, greens, peas, peppers, rhubarb, strawberries 

Summer: Artichokes, greens, beets, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, cucumber, summer squash, garlic, beans, onions, peppers, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, zucchini, apples, berries, cherries, melons, peaches, 

Fall: Beets, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, carrots, greens, garlic, squash, onions, peppers, leeks, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, apples, pears, plums, melons

 During off-season times, go for frozen fruit or vegetables without sauces or syrups and canned vegetables with no salt added and fruit canned in water.

Fruit and vegetables spoil before the family can eat them.

If fruit and vegetables spoil before your family can eat them up, consider why this occurs. Perhaps try buying fewer, or a different variety that are easier to prepare, such as baby carrots versus full carrots. Another option is to purchase frozen or canned varieties per the recommendations listed above. Some fruit and vegetables can also be frozen after being washed such as green beans, steamed spinach, and berries.

No one in the household knows how to prepare a variety of fruit and vegetables.

Start simple and choose fruits that the family can just wash and eat. The same goes for vegetables. Try bananas, apples, mandarin oranges for fruit and baby carrots, bell peppers and celery for starter vegetables. Then when you are ready for something new, check out the variety of how to videos at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ website: for step-by-step video instructions.

 March Recipe: Seasonal Salad Bar


  • Romaine Lettuce, chopped
  • Spinach leaves
  • Grape tomatoes, halved
  • Cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • Assorted bell peppers, chopped
  • Green onions, sliced
  • Kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • Low-fat Cheese, Shredded
  • Left over skinless Chicken or Turkey, chopped
  • Fresh herbs (parsley, oregano, basil, dill, etc), chopped

Wash and prepare vegetables as directed.

Set all ingredients out in separate bowls.

Allow child to build their salad as they see fit.

Keep Fruits and Veggies Available
About Cassie Vanderwall, MS, RD, CD, CDE, CPT
Cassie Vanderwall is a registered dietitian, certified personal trainer and certified diabetes educator at the UW Health Pediatric Fitness Clinic and Pediatric Diabetes Clinic. Cassie is passionate about empowering families by equipping them with the tools they need to achieve a healthier life.
View all posts by Cassie Vanderwall, MS, RD, CD, CDE, CPT
Posted in Nutrition | Tagged , ,

Summer Camps

Even though spring hasn’t arrived quite yet, many families are already thinking about what to do this summer. For some, summer camps may be on the agenda.

Summer Camp

Summer camps offer a great opportunity for kids to experience the outdoors, gain valuable skills and have fun. And for kids with special needs, camps offer the chance to connect with other kids and families with similar experiences. But, finding a camp and letting kids go to one alone, can be a nerve-wracking experience for some parents. By asking questions, and doing some research, it is possible to find a camp that’s right for your family.

The Benefits of Camps

Camps offer many benefits to kids, including:

  • Helping kids develop confidence
  • Allowing kids to interact with others who have experienced similar conditions
  • Encouraging physical activity in a safe environment

When considering what type of camp is best for your child, it’s helpful to think about a few basic differences:

  • Inclusionary camps include children of various ages and backgrounds
  • Special needs camps can center on children with a particular diagnosis, such as cancer or autism, or the camp can include children with many different backgrounds
  • “Sleepover” camps, where kids are gone for a week or two
  • Day camps where kids may go to the same location every day over the course of a few weeks

What’s Right for Your Child?

Definitely involve your child in the selection process, and ask what he or she would like to experience. Are there activities she really wants to try? Would he be more comfortable going to a camp with kids who share similar experiences? Are friends going to any particular camps?

And, think about whether your child has been away from home longer than a weekend. This may help you decide whether he or she is ready to be away from home for a period of time.

Asking Questions

Although brochures and websites offer information about the camp, a phone call or even visit can go a long way in helping to determine whether a camp is right for your child. A few things to consider include:

  • What’s the staff-to-camper ratio?
  • How old are most of the counselors?
  • What type of certification do the counselors have?
  • What’s the turnover rate? Do kids and staff come back?
  • What’s the camp’s transportation system like?
  • If physical accessibility is an issue, what’s the layout of the camp? What provisions has the camp made (or can it make) for wheelchairs or crutches?
  • If your child needs a special diet, can the camp provide appropriate meals? If not, can you provide food for your child?
  • Do staff members have a background working with kids with special needs?
  • If your child has behavior problems, are camp staffers trained to handle such problems?
  • Do the counselors have first-aid training?
  • What kind of medical and nursing staff is available in the infirmary and during what hours? Can the staff administer any medications your child needs?
  • What’s the procedure if your child develops a complication related to his or her medical problems? How far is the nearest hospital? If your child needs specialized treatment, is it available at that hospital?

Starting Your Search

Consider talking with your child’s primary care provider as many know of quality camps or can direct you to resources to help you in your search. There are also a few additional resources:


Madison Asthma Camp is one-day camp in Madison held in June for school aged children providing education about asthma, nutrition and exercise. Learn more about .

 Burn Injured Youth

There are summer camps in Wisconsin for kids who have been injured by burns. Learn more at


UW Health’s Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplant program offers an extensive listing of camps for children with cancer and their siblings and families. Learn more about Hematology and Oncology Summer Camps for Kids, Teens and Their Siblings

Also, on March 25, the program will offer a free session for families to learn about the summer camp experience. Learn more and RSVP at


There are camps in Wisconsin and across the country specifically for children with diabetes. In addition to counselors and camp leaders, diabetes camps are fully staffed with a medical team.


READY (Responding to Emergencies And Disasters with Youth) is a  five-day summer camp that provides training to middle and high school youth, age 13 – 18, escorted by advisors. READY helps prepare youth  to respond in unexpected situations that require immediate action until additional help arrives. It also inspires youth to take action in creating resilient and positive solutions to real and local needs in their school, neighborhood, and community through volunteer activities and community service learning projects.

Safety Town

Safety Town is a program designed for children entering kindergarten in the fall which teaches children how to be safe in their community. Safety Town uses hands-on activities – taught in a small-scale city with streets, homes and sidewalks – to teach children about many different aspects of safety and injury prevention

Are your children looking forward to summer camp?

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