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A Good Age (for a Good Long Time)

Anyone who has had a 24-year-old offspring knows this, but young adults have gotten younger. The early 20s are a lot more unsettled than they used to be. Health care for adults usually focuses on medical issues, but young adults often are still dealing with developmental issues, too. “It used to be by late adolescence you were on a particular path, and kids were self-sufficient at an earlier age. All that has changed in the last 20 or 30 years,” says adolescent medicine specialist Seth Ammerman.

Acknowledging this, the Health Van—long nicknamed the Teen Van—increased the upper limit of its target patient age to 24. The change aligns with a redefinition of adolescence by the Society for Adolescent Medicine and by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Adolescence has three general phases. In the first, the bodily changes for puberty begin, usually around age 10. By 13, when most girls have started menstruating, youths still have a whole decade of adolescence to go.

During the middle phase, around 13 to 17, peers become most important. Kids are trying to be more independent, often by taking risks, while parents are trying to keep them safe and healthy. As Ammerman says, “This is the time that drives everyone crazy.”

Ammerman finds it professionally gratifying to treat young people at any stage of adolescence. “The older we are,” he says, “the more difficult it is to change behavior and get out of old patterns.” His patient population is still at an age when they can turn around.

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