Who knew raising happy, well-adjusted teenagers could be so tricky? No matter who they are or what experiences they face, they still must learn to navigate physical and emotional changes, added responsibility, and social stressors, both inside and outside the family.
For that reason, I have every sympathy for their struggle. I might be the mom of teenagers (and beyond) these days, but my memory of those experiences is fresh. Which makes me want to find the best tips and tricks to help them traverse the rocky terrain successfully.
In our home, we’ve relied on several strategies to help our kids—everything from playing outside to spiritual conversations to retail therapy to help struggling teenagers cope. But we’ve found that while many factors contribute to a teenager’s overall happiness, the trifecta of sleep, exercise, and good nutrition is a winning formula. When our kids have reached a doable balance of these key parts of their lives, they seem more content and able to handle life’s curve balls.
Here’s why sleep and nutrition are so important for teens.
According to the Sleep Foundation, “The teenage years are a formative period. The brain and body experience significant development, and the transition to adulthood brings important changes that affect emotions, personality, social and family life, and academics.” Adequate sleep improves thinking and academic achievement, emotional health, physical endurance, and problem-solving skills.
Lack of sleep, on the other hand, can lead to academic struggles and troubles with memory, concentration, or motivation. It can also contribute to an overall sense of hopelessness, depression, and lethargy. Tired teens are not generally content teens.
Unfortunately, research shows that teens get much less than the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Culprits like late-night social activities, excessive screen time, school or work obligations, community events, and sports activities all contribute to compromised sleep schedules.
So, encourage your kids to get enough sleep. Here are some suggestions from Caring for Kids that might help improve their sleep habits.
- Set limits on screen time in bedrooms late at night.
- Make bed the designated sleep location. Don’t sleep in other locations (like the couch) and don’t use your bed for other activities like homework or browsing the internet.
- Don’t take long naps, especially after dinner.
- Set and stick with a sleep routine, keeping sleeping and waking times constant. As tempting as sleeping in until noon sounds after a long weekend, it makes waking up early on Monday a struggle.
In addition to promoting good sleep habits, encourage your teens to get active. Sometimes teenagers claim they don’t have time for exercise. But with all of the benefits of regular exercise for teenagers, they don’t have time not to exercise. Or maybe your 14 year old just wants to play video games all day. So how can a 14 year old stay healthy? Make regular exercise fun! Try new things as a family and encourage them to come up with their own ideas for exercise. Even playing Pokemon Go is a start.
According to the Center for Disease Control, “Regular physical activity can help children and adolescents improve cardiorespiratory fitness, build strong bones and muscles, control weight, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and reduce the risk of developing health conditions.” Those conditions could include type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Check out this list of benefits to exercise according to Planet Fitness.
- Less stress
- Healthier skin
- More sleep (see above for why that’s a big deal)
- Less negativity
- Boosted energy levels
- Academic excellence
- More momentum
- New friends
- Stronger self-image
- Access to a healthier lifestyle
But how much exercise do our teens need to reap these benefits? “Teenagers need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most days to maintain good health and fitness, and for healthy weight during growth,” according to Stanford Children’s Health. “Even low-to-moderate intensity activities for as little as 30 minutes a day can be helpful.”
Teens can choose from a variety of physical activities like walking, dancing, snowboarding, hiking, football, or swimming. It’s also a good idea to incorporate aerobic, strength, and flexibility training into daily activity to see all the benefits. Just encourage them to get their hearts pumping and the endorphins flowing.
If your teens want to see the full benefits of good sleep and exercise habits, however, they should consider including healthy eating options. Just because teens can get away with eating burgers and fries five days a week without immediate adverse effects doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. There are still plenty of important nutrients for teenagers.
How can a healthy diet help a teenager, you ask? According to About Kids Health, “the teen years are a time of rapid growth.” Consequently, “they need extra nutrients to support bone growth, hormonal changes, and organ and tissue development, including the brain.”
However, experts from this organization warn that teens sometimes fall into four bad habits that can lead to poor diet choices. These include habits like skipping breakfast, eating highly processed foods, eating outside the home, and consuming more sugary drinks.
About Kids Health offers the following suggestions to help your kids incorporate healthy eating habits into their food choices:
- Drink water often
- Include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables
- Eat three meals a day, including smaller snacks throughout the day
- Include high-protein meals and snacks
- Avoid sugary soft drinks, sports drinks, and juices
- Choose baked over fried foods
- Limit sugars, sodium, and saturated fats
- Eat fast food less often
- Limit portion sizes
- Choose a variety of whole foods
Worth the Effort
Sometimes teenagers may not see the necessity of good sleep, exercise, and eating habits. After all, these suggestions might limit time with friends, impact some social activities, or influence food choices. But if you want to give your teenagers the best odds for thriving through the teenage years, encourage them to consider making sleep, exercise, and good nutrition a priority. The benefits are worth the effort.