The teenage years are tough. Hormones rage. Bodies change. Life’s drama unfolds. As parents, many of us dread the day our sweet kids turn into angsty teens. We don’t really know what we’re going to be left dealing with. We worry about fights, misunderstandings, lack of communication, and that dreaded rebellious phase.
One thing that too often slips our attention is the physical health of our teenagers. We ignore things like the over-consumption of junk food, hours binging on television and video games, and terrible sleeping habits.
It’s not that we’re necessarily being bad parents, we’ve just been culturally conditioned to expect this of teens. It’s how they are. It’s what they do.
We have to realize that’s not how it’s supposed to be! No matter what stage of life we’re in, teen or otherwise, health and fitness should always be a priority. While we parents might feel like we’re fighting an uphill battle to get our teens to do anything, let alone be active and healthy, there are some things we can do to encourage a healthier lifestyle.
7 Tips to Help Your Teen Stay Healthy & Active
1) Commit the whole household to health.
Have you ever tried to go on a diet in a home where no one else was on board with you? It probably didn’t last very long. It’s difficult to be healthy when everyone else is putting temptation in your path. For your teenager, that temptation can be particularly strong. The best thing you can do to help your teen be healthy is simply to commit the whole family to being healthy. It will be easier for them if you’re not tempting them with things that they can’t have or making them feel excluded or strange. Instead, make it feel like a family effort to all get healthy together. That way, your teen won’t feel targeted or ostracized.
2) Limit junk food in the house.
By “limit,” I mostly mean “totally get rid of and don’t buy again at all.” Junk food is just too tempting to keep around and none of us need it. You don’t need cookies, chips, and sugary cereals. If you want healthier teenagers, you’ve got to cut that sugar addiction as fast as you can. Replace sodas with seltzer waters. Trade chips for baby carrots, nuts, and snack cheese. Cookies for fruit. The less dependent on sugar they are, the less they’ll crave it or binge, even when it’s in front of them outside of the house.
3) Encourage team activities and sports.
As early as you can, encourage your teen to participate in team sports and activities. Not only will it help them get exercise, but they’ll enjoy the social element and lessons that come from team sports. Even for your non-competitive child, there’s the option of something like marching band. Even if they have no interest in football, softball, or soccer, there’s swim, gymnastics, dance, cheerleading, and any number of alternatives. Encourage them to find something they enjoy early on.
4) Set the example.
Teenagers have a finely-tuned sense for hypocrisy and they’re a lot less likely to want to listen if they see that you’re not practicing what you preach. If you don’t want them eating junk, don’t eat junk either. If you want them to eat more vegetables, serve and eat more yourself. If you want them to spend less time in front of screens, you’ll have to put your own phone down, too.
We have to set the example for our kids. That doesn’t even mean we have to say something about it every time, either! Just get out and be active. Go running. Have a healthy snack in front of them. Sometimes all it takes is leading by example.
5) Make small gestures that form habits.
While you can’t control much that your teenager does, there are some things you can take charge of. You can make small, subtle gestures that encourage physical activity. On family outings, park the car farther away from the door. Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. These tiny actions add up to valuable moments of activity and can form good habits.
6) Value routine health check-ups.
Speaking of habits, your attitude towards healthcare professionals is also very important during your teen’s formative years. As a child and on into their young adulthood, it’s so crucial to take them to regular check-ups with their primary healthcare physician, dentist, and, if needed, optometrist. If you value it, they’ll value it as they grow older and more independent.
7) Set appropriate boundaries.
Boundaries can be tough to set with teenagers, but we as parents have to be firm. What kind of boundaries? Bedtimes, for one. Yes, even with teens! Take the TV out of their room. They don’t need it and it’s a temptation to stay up too late and stay in bed too long. Unlimited data? Ditch it. It's too big of a temptation to rely on devices for entertainment at the first sign of boredom.
With our teenagers, we have to set these parameters for their wellbeing.