Keeping your teen healthy
What tips do you have for exercise, nutrition, sleep, emotions and mental health, etc., that relate to tween/teen health?
(Editor’s Note: This column was compiled in late February before the state was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.)
As is the case with most facets of parenting a tween or teen, keeping them healthy is only partially in your control.
We can purchase wholesome groceries and serve nutritious meals, but there are vending machines at the school and visits to friends’ houses. You have to cross your fingers that you have set a good enough example and instilled a taste for healthy foods that will guide their decisions.
Your evolving young person has to learn to make healthy decisions for themselves based on their perceptions and realizations. Nutrition, exercise, sleep and social interactions will all be important aspects they will have to manage on their own.
It can be difficult to watch from the sidelines, so we asked parents: What tips do you have for exercise, nutrition, sleep, emotions and mental health, etc., that relate to tween/teen health?
Lisa M. » Merrimack, age 48
Mom to two sons, ages 14 and 16
Both my sons are active in sports, but also enjoy gaming and watching movies. I have been lucky; both have very healthy appetites.
I started with healthy choices from their first solid foods as babies and went from there. I figured the foundation I built then would have a great impact during this stage of their life. They do eat junk like everyone else, but they also request Brussels sprouts and broccoli on a regular basis. They get up super early for school, and we try for a reasonable bedtime during the week. But I allow them stay up on weekends and school breaks.
I feel it’s a balance — we can’t control every aspect; we can’t be there at every turn. But I know they are thinking about what they are eating when making their decisions. They know to rest when their bodies tell them to. They have memberships to the local YMCA. They ride their bikes to their friends’ houses during the nicer months and they walk our dogs daily. They do understand if you put junk in that’s the result you will get in return.
Shanin L. » Nashua, age 38
Mom to a son, age 14
Keeping my son healthy has been less dramatic than expected. He’s approaching 15 and eats just about any vegetable I throw at him, even Brussels sprouts. He does not drink soda, he will have juice once in a while and he prefers water over most things.
Though I do not monitor his video game usage, he’s pretty reasonable. On the weekends or vacation, he tends to stay up late playing or watching shows. I’m pretty sure he’s on his 10th round of The Office. During the week, he’s in bed by 10 p.m.
I do not have an athletic child — unless talking qualifies as a sport. He’ll walk around with friends and participate in occasional games. Overall, he’s a pretty healthy kid without me having to prompt him.
Susan R. » Mont Vernon, 54
Mom to twin daughters, 18, and a son, age 16
Focusing on health has always been important to my husband and myself. He struggled with weight since high school, so we talked about educating our kids so they could maybe avoid the same struggle. When the twins were old enough, they tried ballet, tap, gymnastics, soccer and lacrosse.
Gymnastics became one’s favorite, cheerleading for the other. The girls loved their sports and never had to be “forced” to go to practices. In fact, these passions have carried them both into college. Later, our son also tried various sports/activities — soccer, lacrosse, football, baseball, karate, gymnastics, basketball — before settling into football and baseball now in high school.
We were not super strict on eating, but we didn’t have junk food in the house. Treats were allowed, but we always talked about the healthy choice, and taught moderation. We encouraged them to pay attention to how they felt after eating: any stomachaches, headaches, etc. Learning to listen to what your body needs and what makes it feel not so good.
All our kids have witnessed family struggles with weight and health issues and how unhappy and miserable it can make them. They prefer to not have to go through that. Those are choices they have made themselves.
Because the kids were so busy, they had to be disciplined about homework, meals, sleep and just being a kid and having fun. The structure was good. Their friendships were built around these activities. They all have good sleep habits, usually getting eight to 10 hours. As far as tech time, we never had to enact strict limits; they were too busy doing other things.
We can teach by example until we are blue in the face, but when it comes down to it, in the end they are going to choose for themselves.