These apps may help soothe your teenager

Dec. 21, 2018

The doctor is on speed dial in the early years when your infant won’t sleep, the 3-year-old doesn’t want to give up diapers or your 8-year-old is having nightmares.

Dr. Kalinda Batra has advice on apps that may help teenagers learn how to build confidence, meditate and report to authorities when their safety may be at stake. Photo: Getty Images.

But as children move into their teen years, some parents skip annual wellness visits. When they do, they’re missing out on expert advice during years that can be challenging for parents and teens alike.

Dr. Kalindi Batra has two younger children and a passion for working with teens. She’s been a family doctor for 15 years and has practiced in Colorado for 10 years. She recently joined the new UCHealth Primary Care Clinic – Sterling Ranch, which opened in September.

One of Batra’s key strategies is meeting teens where they are: on their phones.

While Batra recommends limiting screen time in general and urges parents to think carefully before giving smart phones to children and pre-teens, she has found some great apps to help teens with resiliency, confidence, mindfulness, wellness and safety.

Dr. Kalindi Batra

Here are some of her favorites:

iChill: For anyone who is feeling anxious or stressed out, the free iChill app gets great reviews. Created by the Trauma Resource Institute, it walks users through steps to boost resiliency through self-help skills. The lessons help teens (and others) understand how stress affects the mind and body.

Medical professionals like Batra have been learning more in recent years about how traumatic experiences in childhood can cause negative health effects many years later.

“The skills of resiliency are really valuable,” Batra said. “Health care providers are trying to help everybody, especially teens, get through difficult situations. Mental health is a big issue right now in terms of teen health. And there’s a huge lack of mental health providers. All of us are feeling that across the country.”

Safe2Tell: Originally created as an anonymous phone tip line after the devastating school shooting at Columbine High School, Safe2Tell still offers a phone line and now offers a mobile app too. Many Colorado students know about Safe2Tell because the contact information is available on the back of their school IDs and elsewhere in schools.

Parents should know about Safe2Tell too since anyone of any age can anonymously report a concern to trained law enforcement officers. Whether a young person is expressing suicidal thoughts or is talking about harming others, Safe2Tell is a great reporting tool. The app features a two-way dialogue function and allows video and photo uploads.

“To have a voice and to be heard is really important,” said Batra.

Insight Timer: This app melds meditation with tracking. Users can choose from among thousands of guided meditations to help them slow down and de-stress. The app will time the meditation in the background. Along with the soothing voices of meditation guides, Insight Timer offers other relaxing sounds like gongs and flowing water.

Batra encourages teens to use mediation during spare moments. If they are stressed out before doing homework, they can do a 5-minute meditation. Or teens who are wound up when they should be going to sleep can silence all other apps and use a meditation to end their day.

Headspace: Billed as a personal meditation guide in your pocket, Headspace touts the research that supports mindfulness. For perpetually distracted teens (and adults too), Headspace’s developers say their app can improve focus and boost sleep, while reducing stress and anxiety. Some introductory sessions are free, but users may need to pay fees for additional sessions.

Sleep Cycle: Teens are notorious for being groggy in the morning. Their biological clocks are out of sync with school schedules. Until schools adapt to teens and start later, teens will have trouble waking up. This app promises to wake users at the perfect time in their sleep cycle rather than when they’re deeply asleep. The idea is to wake you gently, so you’ll feel more rested and can rise without hitting the snooze button over and over again.

No matter what, Batra urges teens to do all they can to get plenty of sleep. Teens should be getting 10 hours on average of uninterrupted sleep a night, which many teens and parents forget. Phones, electronic devices and video games in the bedroom can be a huge distraction, so parents should remove all electronic devices from the bedroom.

Photo: Getty Images.

happier: Gratitude is at the core of this app. Instead of obsessing over appearances and relationships or worrying about how many likes they’re getting (or not!) on Instagram, teens can focus on life’s blessings and thereby make themselves happier. The idea is to identify and savor little happy moments. The app also encourages users to do kind things for others, a great way for everyone to lift themselves out of funks.

Build Confidence: The idea behind this app is that confidence doesn’t come by accident. Everyone can make the commitment to move more boldly in life and results will follow. With commitment and practice, confidence grows. With practice and cheerleading, teens can become more self-assured. Or, they can adopt a trick that has worked for many adults: fake it until you make it.

Batra says that both happier and Build Confidence strike important chords.

“Self esteem and self confidence are big issues for teens,” she said.

Colorado and states in the Rocky Mountain region have some of the highest suicide rates in the U.S. Teen suicide deaths in Colorado now exceed motor vehicle fatalities. Anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at (8255).

“Teens live in the moment. And when they’re going through a rough time, they don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Batra said.

Google Fit and Apple Health: No doubt, you’ve heard that inactivity is unhealthy. The mantra these days is: move more, sit less. Google Fit and Apple Health are already built into phones and can help teens track their activity. To make movement more fun, teens can compete against one another to see who can log more steps or climb more flights of stairs each day.

Batra was fortunate to grow up in Alaska where she and her siblings, including an identical twin sister, spent much of their free time enjoying nature.

“We grew up on five acres with moose and bear in the backyard and lots of snow,” said Batra. “I’m outdoors all the time. I love the seasons. I love hiking, biking, skiing, swimming and doing yoga outdoors.”

Their dad was a telecommunications engineer and installed the first data and phone lines in the Alaskan bush. Batra and her siblings got to ride along sometimes on flights on little single-engine Cessna planes.

“We’d land in the middle of nowhere,” Batra said.

Her twin is also a family doctor, as is their brother. Both live in California. An older sister lives in Washington, where she’s an acupuncturist. Batra and her twin love meeting up every year for conferences to boost their medical knowledge.

The siblings love family medicine since they get to see patients of all ages.

With teens, Batra can make sure they’re up to date on all essential vaccines, like HPV. When teens and parents are comfortable, she can also have some private time to give young patients a chance to confide in her.

“Developmentally children are digressing from us as they become teens,” she said.

Sometimes parents can only get one or two-word answers from adolescents.

But, the relationship with the doctor is different.

“I find the teens really open up with me,” Batra said. “We address a lot of issues like sexuality, bullying or families that are struggling with finances. A visit is a golden opportunity for us to be able to address mental health in a safe and trusted environment.”

While time is of the essence, Batra is efficient at using time well. She gives all patients a quick 2-question screening for depression.

“We can do it in 30 seconds,” she said. “I definitely walk and talk at the same time. I’m examining my patient and I’m talking at the same time. I use every single second we have together.”

Giving app recommendations is a great way for Batra to help teens stay healthy on their own, long after the appointment ends. Then, when young patients and their parents come back, they can educate Batra on how technology is helping them stay healthy.

Dr. Batra is accepting new patients. She loves caring for people of all ages from, newborns to those who are 100+. Contact Sterling Ranch at 303-265-3360.

About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Coloradan. She attended Colorado College thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summers in college.

Katie is a dedicated storyteller who loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as an award-winning journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and at an online health policy news site before joining UCHealth in 2017.

Katie and her husband, Cyrus — a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer — have three adult children and love spending time in the Colorado mountains and traveling around the world.