When you’re raising young children, you have a large degree of control: you decide who they play with, what they eat and drink, when they go to bed, even what they wear. But children eventually become teenagers, and when they do, things aren’t so easy anymore. Many parents feel like their teens are determined to do everything they can to hurt their health and aren’t sure what to do. If you’re one of them, here are a few tips for preventing your teen from self-destructing.
With their growing independence, it’s not nearly as easy to tell a teen “no, you can’t have a cookie,” as it was to tell the small child that they once were. A working teen might decide to spend a whole paycheck on junk food, then stay up all night eating Oreos dunked in Mountain Dew.
This sort of thing isn’t a problem once in a while (well, besides the night spent wide awake listening to wild laughter and sudden arguments between overtired adolescents), but it can become a problem if your teen makes such things a habit.
I’ve known a couple of teenagers who literally refused to drink water because they drank soda and other sweetened drinks constantly. Obviously, this can lead to serious problems not much later in life: weight gain (often resulting in stretch marks even if they lose it later), diabetes, bad immune systems, caffeine dependency, badly stained teeth, and worsening skin diseases and disorders (especially acne) are all possible side effects.
This is just for something like drinking too much soda, let alone such problematic habits as underage tobacco or alcohol use.
So what’s a harried parent to do if they’re concerned about teen health and wellness?
There’s no definite answer, and you almost certainly know your child and how to reach him or her better than anyone else does. But here are a few options:
Limit, Don’t Eliminate
Teens rarely react well to being told they can’t do something – often, they’ll immediately look for a way to do it behind your back. Instead, warn them of the problems that a potential bad habit might create, and do everything you can to make sure they only indulge occasionally rather than constantly. Most teens will understand and accept such a rule if they understand that you are concerned about their health and wellness and that you are flexible.
Also, remember that many teens love to do things to get a response. It is some weird form of self amusement to antagonize their parents and taunt them with behavior that they know will upset or irritate them. Because I have such a focus on healthy, additive-free-food and buying organic wherever possible our son loves nothing more than scoffing toxic stuff in front of me. I don’t buy into it!
On the other hand he absolutely loves most of the meals we make him. He has a homemade fruit juice (including the pulp) each morning and a really healthy meal for dinner when he is at home which is most nights. I figure if we can get the nutrients into him as best we can while he is at home it will at least help offset the crap he eats elsewhere.
Lead By Example
Few people like being told they can’t do something by someone they see doing it every day, no matter how good the reason is. Always be sure to examine your own behavior, and be the change you want to see in your family.
I try not to harp on too much about it but I know that Jake at least knows what is good for him and I try to make sure that the healthy food tastes better than the junk. He would take one of my homemade burgers over McDonalds any day. I pre-make batches of the burger mince using grass fed beef with garlic, onion, and good-quality olive oil. I also grate in a carrot and zucchini and add a couple of tablespoons of bran. I then cook and freeze them individually so that they are always on hand and quick to prepare. They are delicious and nutritious and all Jake’s mates think they’re great.
Also, recently I noticed that we now go through about three dozen eggs every weekend. Over the past few weeks we have had more and more teenagers arrive for breakfast. I couldn’t figure it out till one of the boys said “we all come here because your eggs taste better than the ones we have at home.” I make the effort to drive to a local market every week because there is a biodynamic farmer there who has the best eggs in the world. They are the same price as the store-bought ones but that is where any similarity ends.
Make Healthier Versions of Their Favorites
As with my versions of burgers above, I always make sure I have plenty of homemade cakes and cookies on hand. I know that for many working parents this sounds like hard work but it is really quite time effective if you make them in large batches and freeze them. The difference in time it takes to make them using real ingredients like fresh eggs, flour, and milk compared to using chemical-laden packet mix or store-bought cakes is minimal and teens love them. They are still satisfying their desires for junk food but are getting real nutrients and no toxic additives or chemicals.
Focus on the Good
It’s often hard to convince a teen about the sort of problems they’re likely to develop a few years or even months down the road – we all tend to feel invincible during our adolescence. Be sure to look for things that can help them now: for example, getting more sleep and eating less junk food will help reduce their acne, or improve their athletic performance, or help them lose weight. Odds are there’s something that will motivate them. Play off their desire to excel rather than their nearly non-existent fears of the future.
You might not be able to control a teenager, but you can certainly guide him or her in the right direction. Think like an adult to make the right decisions, then think like a teen to figure out what will make them want to follow those decisions. Add a little luck and parenting should become much easier.