Research shows that tweens begin to self-medicate around 11 years old (approximately 5th to 6th grade).

Yet, according to two recent surveys of 6th graders and their parents across the country, tweens got a failing grade on their knowledge of over the counter (OTC) medicine safety and awareness. This is a serious issue, especially since failing may have life threatening results.

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As a pediatrician, I like that around 11 years of age many kids become interested in participating in their own health. This is an important time to learn and begin taking some personal responsibility for health. Nutrition, exercise, sleep and hygiene are all topics I discuss with my patients, as they become older children and tweens. Self medicating however is something that tweens are not yet ready to do and parents surveyed agree that their tweens do not understand medicine safety issues such as how to read a Drug Facts label, dose appropriately, not take medication prescribed for a friend and how to safely store medication.

It is no wonder that America’s poison control centers manage over 296,000 medication exposure cases involving children ages 6 to 19 each year. Over half of these cases involve medication errors and misuse. In light of these shocking facts, Scholastic and the American Association of Poison Control Centers are continuing their commitment to help educate tweens on the safe use of OTC medications with their national “OTC Literacy” program.

The OTC Literacy program teaches tweens important precautions about medicines that may be in their homes, or that friends may offer to them. The educational resources cover such issues as the difference between prescription medicine and OTC medicines, safe and unsafe storage of medicines. Tweens will also learn about the harmful risks associated with using OTC medicines inappropriately. In addition, the program teaches tweens how to read and understand the Drug Facts label on OTC medicine, so they can identify such things as active and non-active ingredients, dosing instructions, warnings, uses and more.

We know that tweens have hectic schedules—homework, sports, music and clubs to name a few—and parenting is a very busy (although rewarding) job. Many days leave little time to talk about OTC medicine safety. That said, parents play a critical role in helping their tweens learn how to responsibly take OTC medicines, so that they are equipped with the knowledge and the tools they need to be medicine-safe adults.

Here are a few things parents should keep in mind when talking to their children about OTC medicine safety:

  • Always read and follow the Drug Facts label
  • Never take more than what’s directed on the label
  • Know what active ingredients are in the medicine that is being taken and never use more than one medicine with the same active ingredient.
  • It is important to store medicines up, away and out of sight from children
  • Always use the dosing device that comes with the medicine; never use household measurement tools like teaspoons, tablespoons or kitchen spoons, as they are not accurate.

For more information on the OTC Literacy program, and to help educate your tweens on medicine safety, please visit here

Dr. Tanya Remer Altmann is a UCLA-trained pediatrician based in Southern California, an American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson and best-selling author.

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