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How to help teens take care of their health

How to help teens take care of their health

The teenage years see many dramatic changes our kids’ health and development. In 2020, these dramatic changes have been compounded by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Research has shown that young people have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and are experiencing increased stress and anxiety. It’s important that parents are equipped to help teens take care of their health, especially through this challenging period.

Every parent will be aware of how difficult it is to support teens to make beneficial changes. It feels like they rebel against us out of sheer spite – if we tell them vegetables are good for them, they will most likely never touch a carrot again. At least, not until they are 25 and have woken up to themselves.

Trying to get a teen who doesn’t like exercising to exercise, or one who never talks to open up… well, we’ve got our work cut out for us.

Three golden rules

Remember the three golden rules for getting teens to do absolutely everything:

1. Make it about their friends

If you can tie their mates to their wellbeing, you’ll have more chance of success. This could be offering to be the car pool driver for them all to go the local pool or a gym session; providing a healthy fruit and veggie platter when they are all hanging out at your place; or even just mentioning that so-and-so is looking good after starting a new gym program, etc. 

Helping teens take care of their health through their friendships

2. Ask, don’t tell

Making a ‘suggestion’, not ‘telling them what to do’ is our best strategy for gently nudging our teens in the direction we want them to head. It helps if you can offer them two healthy choices and then the decision is theirs.

3. Bin the nags

It can be so easy to fall into a pattern of nagging. All our teens hear when we do this is that we find fault in everything they do. Instead, seek out the times when they are doing something well and hit the praise button as hard as you can. “Well done for walking to school this morning, did you feel good?”; “Thanks heaps for taking the dog out, I really appreciate it”; “I noticed you picked up your towel this morning and I’m really grateful,” etc.

To further help us out, the YMCA have created Virtual Y. It’s a completely free online wellbeing hub aimed at supporting kids at home. The team have a few areas where they can help teens take care of their physical and mental health.

Nutrition loading

While we know that Nutrition Australia’s Healthy Eating Pyramid is a great place to start for good nutrition,  getting our kids on board isn’t easy. Good nutrition in the teen years if vital for physical and mental health, but it’s hard to get kids to understand the benefits.

Help teens take care of their health through good nutrition

We can relay info to our kids until we are blue in the face, but they are unlikely to change their Gatorade-guzzling ways. Enter Virtual Y, which shares important nutrition information in a non-confrontational way. There’s a nutrition coach available to answer any of their food and nutrition questions. They also regularly update the site with new and delicious recipes that will appeal to even the fussiest teen.

Latest recipes include asparagus fries, banana and blueberry bread, and Japanese vegetable pancakes – all straight-forward enough for even brand new cooks to make themselves.

Keep ’em moving

It’s more important than ever for teens to get their bodies moving and stay physically active. Not only is exercise vital to health, growth and development, it also has emotional and intellectual benefits. Physical activity can help to improve mood, sleep patterns, mental health and even concentration.

Virtual Y includes a range of online fitness classes to help teens get into and reap the benefits of movement and routine. From Pilates, yoga and dance, to HIIT, strength and cardio training – there’s bound to be a class that appeals. It’s all completely free to access online – so they don’t even need to leave the house.

If the Virtual Y program doesn’t appeal to your teen, there are plenty of free workouts, yoga and pilates channels via YouTube. Just make sure the instructors are qualified! We like Yoga with Adriene, The Balanced Life for Pilates, AthleanX for strength training and Joe Wicks for HIIT-style workouts.

Teens take care of their health

The key to keeping teens active is to help them get into a good routine. Exercise should become a habit, like brushing their teeth (hopefully teeth brushing is a habit by now!) or checking their Insta.

Set up a schedule for getting them moving, and work with your teen to add as much variety in there as possible. They might walk to and from school each day, do a Virtual Y yoga class before school on Tuesdays, a HIIT class before dinner on Thursdays and go for a long bushwalk, skate or surf on the weekends.

Mental health is just as important

Mental health becomes very important during the teen years, as teenagers spend more time with friends. They begin experiencing new pressures and stressors, and often turn to social media to stay connected.

Mental health can be impacted by factors including diet and exercise (see above), sleep patterns, or drug and alcohol use. Teens are also experiencing a flurry of hormonal changes, which can then affect their mental health (and our own!!). Many teens are in quiet crisis during these turbulent years, so stay alert for changes in behaviour and be ready to seek help if necessary. There’s a list of contacts that can help your teen here.

Though it can sometimes feel hard when our kids push us away, it’s important to stay connected in order to support their mental health. Virtual Y suggests that parents can do this by taking an active interest in their teens’ lives. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and show plenty of love and affection. Spending quality time with them away from everyday distractions will help get them to open up.

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What’s your top tip to help teens take care of their health?

This post was not sponsored by Virtual Y – we just wanted to share their excellent free program.

Feature image by Madison Compton;  beach by Vince Fleming; salad by Brooke Lark; skate by Priscilla Du Preez