Teenage Sins: Lethargy

In this edition of 'Teenage Sins', we look at another contentious issue. Has your teen made an unwanted friendship with lethargy?

By Kannalmozhi Kabilan

Teenage Sins: Lethargy

Is your teenage child forever lounging on the couch? Do you find the need to constantly nag him to complete a task? Are your child’s off-days increasingly turning into movie-marathon and social networking sessions? Watch out. Your child could have just made a sinful acquaintance with the mean monster called lethargy.

Understanding lethargy

As a medical condition, lethargy is defined as ‘a pathological state of sleepiness or deep unresponsiveness and inactivity’. Simply put, it is the absence of energy and enthusiasm. Unlike other common problems among teenagers, lethargy is not just a behavioural pattern.

More often than not, lethargy and laziness are confused with each other. “Laziness is purposeful disinclination to use energy while lethargy (the constant lack of energy), is a condition that could be biological,” says Karthik Lakshmanan, a leading psychologist from Chennai. “However, laziness in children could manifest itself as lethargy in adolescence,” he adds.

What causes lethargy?

Several factors can influence and induce lethargy in teens.

Sleep deprivation: A teen’s lifestyle, filled with constant pressure to stay up late and wake up early, easily leads to sleep deprivation. Lack of required amount of sleep over a prolonged period of time causes a constant state of drowsiness. This eventually leads to lack of motivation. What follows is lethargy. “Teens should get at least 9 to 10 hours of sleep every night to balance the demands of taxing growth sprouts. When that doesn’t happen, it affects their mood and behaviour,” says Lakshmanan.

Hormones: Teenage years are characterised by physiological development. Hormone production that’s synonymous with puberty and adolescence can induce lethargy. These hormones delay the production of the melatonin in the body, which leads us back to the initial case of sleep deprivation. Says Lakshmanan, “In the past, children used to hit puberty around the age of 13 or 14. These days, children mature – physically and mentally – much earlier. It’s only natural that it affects their growth during the adolescent years.” In a nutshell, hormonal changes are directly linked to key issues like mood swings in teenagers. One moment, you will find them full of enthusiasm and the next moment, you wonder why they are looking down. Hormonal imbalance leads to lethargy.

Depression: Depression saps your child of energy and willingness to participate in daily activities. A depressed teen is either drowsy all the time or suffers from insomnia. Both these conditions could worsen the state of lethargy, and have to be addressed with care.

Stress: Several studies suggest that teenagers, these days, feel more stressed than adults. Rigorous academic life, peer pressure, lifestyle changes, demands of an expanding social circle, the need to live up to the status quo et all can be extremely stressful for your child. Stress, in turn, affects normal hormone production and sleep cycle. Even those who seem to be ‘handling it well’ are likely to feel the pinch at some stage.

Drug abuse: Addiction to anti-depressants, psychological addiction to marijuana could cause behavioural changes in teens. In such cases, lack of energy and interest are the natural progression. Drowsiness is one of the most common after-effects of drug use. Other signs to look out for are red eyes, euphoria and dry mouth.

How you can help

Get him to a doctor: If you notice signs of lethargy in your child, check for Vitamin B12 deficiency, which is the most common sign of the condition. When the deficiency is confirmed, take him to a doctor. Good food and moderate medication is all he needs for a full recovery.

Lots of attention: Almost all causes of lethargy can be avoided if parents make it a point to take an active interest in every aspect of their child’s life, without being overbearing or judgemental.

Long-term care and therapy: Almost all cases of lethargy are curable. Sometimes, the individual might need more than the immediate elimination of physical and psychological problems. A structured long-term care and therapy is advisable. Family, and in certain cases, caretakers in school, should participate in the care and rehabilitation process.


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