From the moment we have children we are concerned — possibly obsessed — with their health. As they grow, children increasingly have more control over the choices in their lives. While we do not have to spoon-feed them, we as parents need to still be cognizant of what our teens are doing to be healthy. At the fall meetings of Parenting Teens Together, a support group for parents of teens, we spent several of our sessions discussing healthy teens.
It is overwhelming when you look at all the aspects of “health” in the life of a teen. To begin, when was the last time your teen went to the pediatrician? We spend the first two years of our baby’s life in and out of the doctor’s office. But when they become teens, other than for athletic appointments, doctors rarely see them in the office setting. A visit to the doctor can provide parents with a third party to look at moods, behaviors and overall health. If your child regularly visits a doctor they can form a bond, and as the child gets older the doctor will become a safe place to discuss issues about body changes, friends and school.
When I think of health I usually think of nutrition, but there are many additional factors to consider when looking at your teen’s health. Yes, nutrition is big. Nutrition is the foundation of your health. Can you make sure your teen is eating enough protein? Can you help them balance their blood sugar and make sure they get enough water?
As parents we set the stage of success when it comes to health. We need to be aware of our relationship with our own body image and food. We control what message we will give to our families. Use words that promote feeling good about our body and being healthy, not “skinny” or “fat.” Be aware of how you compliment your children — words are powerful. Are you praising their accomplishments or how they look? Food can be a huge power struggle with children, but try not to police what they eat. Provide a variety of healthy, balanced meals, but enjoy the desserts, too. Focus on positive, fun family activities — evening walks, a game of soccer or catch or playing cards after a meal. If we provide them a good nutritional foundation they will be better able to handle stress.
As with our own lives, the health of our teens can be directly related to the stress they deal with on a daily basis. Professionals recommend keeping structure and discipline in place as our children reach their teen years, but still providing a caring, understanding environment. Adolescent depression and eating disorders are real and can happen to any teen, so be a good listener. It is important to stay aware of your teen’s moods, actions and behaviors. There are medical professionals and therapists who can help. There are also holistic approaches that can help the family find balance between the body, mind and spirit.
Prevention is the best medicine, and as parents the responsibility falls to us to model good healthy behavior. We must work on being good listeners and providing nonjudgmental support for our children. Being a teenager is emotional, and they seem to spend a fair amount of time in “react” mode. We must be able to step back and help them breathe.
Beth Swanson is founder of The Moms’ Network in Walla Walla. She can be reached at 301-7471 or email@example.com.