When I was thirteen, one of my parents’ friends asked if I would like to help her as an assistant teacher at a two-week virtues camp she was putting together for children in a small jungle town in Ecuador. I was delighted at the opportunity to go with her as she always provided delicious food and the idea of taking a trip to the jungle town enhanced my summer holiday greatly.
Little did I know that this experience (which later would become a yearly routine) would be key in helping me develop a strong sense of social responsibility and self-esteem: character traits that helped me remain focused on elevated life goals and avoid picking up toxic habits that were common to many of my friends and classmates during high school and university.
Research conducted in Canada suggested that the habit of drinking alcohol and smoking usually starts before 18 and teenage girls who engaged in such activities had an increased risk of unwanted pregnancies. On the other hand, they found that participating in organized out-of-school activities such as sports, community service, and projects increased positive peer influence and self-esteem protecting adolescent boys and girls from engaging in risky behaviors.
Teenagers are full of energy and motivated to challenge the status quo. They begin to question what their parents think and look to others (usually their peers) for a role model. During these years, they solidify their own identity and habits.
Many marketing companies are aware of this vulnerable and extraordinarily receptive age and invest millions in advertising directly to early teens. They know that if they are able to capture their attention and create a habit during these years, they will most likely have a lifelong customer.
It is exciting to see how most schools in Beijing offer multiple opportunities for their students to participate in community service projects as well as cultural and sports activities that provide safe environments for the students to explore their talents and develop not only intellectual but also life skills.
Spring and summer camps also are great at providing organized programs on various topics where teens may experience exposure to high ideals and strengthen friendships with other young people with common goals. They often offer occasions to connect with nature and engage in physical activity.
Aware that the teen years play such an important role in shaping the future, it is important for adolescents to ask themselves:
How can this receptive energetic period of my life be made the most of?
How many hours am I spending watching TV or playing video games per day?
What is the message/content of the activities I spend the most time on?
Who am I spending most of my free time with?
What do we do together?
How often am I engaging in activities with community service-oriented goals that promote healthy lifestyle habits?
I would like to end by saying that self-awareness is key in protecting us from unconsciously becoming victims of economically driven alcohol and cigarette companies that hope to make us into lifelong consumers of their products.
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Dr. Dorothy Dexter is a family medicine physician at Beijing United Family Hospital. She has several years of clinical experience, and speaks English and Spanish. Contact her at
Photo: Freestockpro.com via Pexels
This article appeared on p19 of beijingkids April 2018 issue