Keeping your teenager healthy is a challenge for any parent, especially in the age of smartphones and social media. Our children are spending more and more time in front of the screen and engaging in less and less physical activity. Factor in a diet full of processed foods and its no wonder the CDC now reports that over 20 percent of American adolescents are obese.
Raising healthy young people begins at home. As your children grow into teenagers, they should begin to take personal responsibility for their own health. However, getting a teen to understand the importance of nutrition, physical fitness and good hygiene is often easier said than done.
If you have a teen (or pre-teen) in your home, here are some helpful tips for keeping them on the road to a lifetime of good health.
You may not think your teenager is closely watching you, but they are. Take care of yourself by eating a nutritious diet, making time for regular exercise and getting adequate sleep. Doing so sets a healthy example your teen can follow.
This can be a tough one with all the competing schedules in any given household, but set aside time for family meals. Eating together even just once or twice a week does more than instill healthy food habits. It also teaches your children that they matter to you, reinforces the value of spending time together and tightens the bonds within your family unit.
Communicate the importance of regular, heart-pumping exercise to your children. Young people should get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity exercise daily. This 60 minutes can be broken into shorter segments if needed. Allow your teen to choose a form of exercise they enjoy, whether that’s dancing, swimming, a team sport like basketball or running. Whatever activity they choose, be sure it includes enough aerobic activity to get their heart rate up. This type of exercise (cardio exercise) burns fat, strengthens your teen’s heart and lungs and boosts their overall level of fitness.
Work with your teen to come up with a plan to consume less junk and fast food. Protein, calcium and iron are essential nutrients for the development of the teenage body — cholesterol, fat, salt and refined sugar aren’t. Teens should eat three healthy meals a day, making sure to include servings from the four food groups. Make sure your teenager drinks plenty of water and avoids sugary beverages like soda and energy drinks, especially before, during and after exercise.
Positive self-esteem is critical to the health and development of any adolescent. Your children should feel good about themselves, no matter their size or weight. If they do, they will be more likely to embrace a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating well, exercising regularly and abstaining from the use of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs.
When it comes to your teen, beware of falling into the “do as I say, not as I do” trap. Model good behavior and make healthy choices together — as a family. With parental love and supervision, you can inspire your teen to claim ownership of their own health and well-being.