Dear beloved grandchildren,
As I get older, I think more about what I want to leave you in the way of advice. Of course, I have been doing some of that all along. My son Evan thinks that I “opine” too much, but I thought it might help to have things in writing that you can read now and then, when you are ready, able, and interested.
There are so many topics to tell you about, but let’s start with your health. Without good health, your ability to do many things will be limited. So, here goes!
1. Good Health Insurance
When Noah was asked to specify the most important things to have in life for a school assignment, he listed “good health insurance” on the list. He’s right! Although we can’t predict what sort of health insurance will be available 20, 30, 40, or 60 years from now, all trends right suggest you should be ready to pay more for Medicare or other health insurance. So, try to save up for that any way you can, starting as early as possible. Health insurance is expensive. Sadly, even with subsidies, insurance will not be affordable for everyone.
2. Take Care of Your Health
Of course, taking care of your health will result in spending less for medical care later. But it’s much more important than just that.
We constantly hear about more new inventions in medicine, like being able to get a new artificial ear and other organs. The May 2013 issue of National Geographic has a cover story on “This Baby Will Live to Be 120”. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Replacement body parts like new LEGO pieces, and the promise to live to 120. But it’s best not to rely on that promise, let alone assume that you will be able afford the new technologies.
Living in a healthy state should be our aim – not just living longer. So get in the habit of eating well. Avoid fad diets later or snake oils touted as elixirs for life. Forget about cigarettes, street drugs, and as far as alcohol goes, maybe a little red wine now and then. Exercise moderately, not too little and not too much. And I’m a strong believer in getting regular physical and mental check-ups.
3. Get Psychotherapy as Early as Possible
I recently heard of a classroom of 8 year old Sunday School students being asked if they ever seen a therapist. Almost all answered, yes! The one student who did not came home that day to request, “Mom, I need a therapist”. I’ve always thought that everyone should obtain some therapy, at the very least to know ourselves better, and that schools should have more basic education about psychology. Maybe they will for you. I feel lucky to have been able to afford psychotherapy for myself.
4. Get Genetic Testing as Available
As we learn more about our genes, there will be more opportunities to get genetic testing to see what health problems we’re likely to encounter in our lives. Of course, we have to be careful that this information is kept private. And, sometimes, we may not want to learn what illnesses we’re at risk for – especially if there’s nothing we can do for prevention. But my own view is that it’s probably better to learn about our risks and then be able to live our lives with that knowledge.
5. Help Our Environment
I know that children in your generation are becoming increasingly knowledgeable about the risks of global warming and climate change. When I’ve gone to the grocery store for you and your parents after you were born, I’ve been asked “paper or plastic”? At first I didn’t know the answer that would be best for your futures. Now I know – it’s bring your own bag!
Climate change will influence your lives much more than the remaining years of mine. Without addressing it, health and mental health problems, including violence, will increase all around the world.
How we care for the environment will also affect the animals we love. Right now, we’re already losing species due to environmental changes. In that same National Geographic, there’s a picture from Australia of a baby kangaroo and a baby wombat hugging each other after becoming orphans when their mothers were killed by cars. Australia, which relies so much on fossil fuels for their cars in its spread out landscape, is already being hit with unprecedented droughts.
6. Listen to Your Parents
Now, I know that it is natural to argue and disagree with your parents and to think that they try to control you too much, especially when you are teenagers and want to do what your friends do. But your parents were once children and adolescents too, and know the mistakes they made. I certainly did. When I was younger, I was voted “Most Accident Prone” in high school. That was an award you don’t want to get! I got it because I was too careless and impulsive in what I tried to do. So, I ended up with many concussions and broken bones from sports injuries. We now know that the executive functions of the brain that help us make good decisions are not adequately developed until we are over 21. That was certainly true for me!
Fortunately, I met my wife and your grandmother in college, when I was 19. After that, I was no longer accident prone! That’s my last piece of health advice for now. Get good friends who care about you and, most importantly, find a partner for life who is concerned for your well-being.
I want to end with an apology for the many problems my generation didn’t tackle and have left for you and your parents to address. For your sake and for the planet, I hope you do better than we did!
H. Steve Moffic, M.D., 66, recently retired from clinical practice. He identifies himself as “psychiatric gadfly.” He has four grandchildren: Noah (10), Mira (8), Hannah (6), and Tamir (4).