Changing bodies, wildly swinging hormones, social landscapes to navigate – being a tween or teen is hard enough as it is. They’re transforming from child to young adult, and they’re managing so much more responsibility, not the least of which is taking more autonomy of their personal health.
Here are some health hacks to help your tween or teen stay as happy and well-adjusted as possible:
- Love the skin they’re in
Acne or spotty skin is part and parcel of many a teen’s life. Genetics do seem to play a part, with some individuals being more affected than others, but it can severely impact their self-confidence, so it’s worth paying attention to. Good skin comes from the inside, with nutrition playing a huge part, and different bodies breakout when they eat different things. While everyone has a varying opinion on what foods can cause breakouts, sugar and refined foods won’t help the situation, so it’s best to cut down or avoid these. Also get your teens into the habit of taking care of their skin by washing their face twice a day, and not picking at any pimples, as that will only cause scars and slow the healing process.
- Moving is key
Endorphins can help the young adult in your household manage their swinging moods, which is enough reason to encourage them to do some form of exercise that they enjoy. This doesn’t have to only mean taking part in competitive sport – especially if they don’t enjoy it, which can defeat the purpose. Things like swimming, hiking, or even riding their bike around the neighbourhood can help clear the cobwebs and let them reset. Besides being good for physical and mental health, developing good habits like these now can also help foster a positive body image, and maintain a love for exercise that carries them into adulthood.
- Get those ZZZs in
You’ve probably noticed that your child has transformed from someone who sprung up at the crack of dawn to a sleep monster who you’re now unable to drag out from under the covers. This is entirely normal, as teens experience a shift in their circadian rhythm, making it difficult for them to fall asleep at the earlier times they used to when they were younger, and harder to get them up for school in the mornings. According to John Hopkins, teens need 9 to 9.5 hours of sleep a night, even more than they did when they were 10 years old! Besides helping support their developing brain and body, sleep can also help protect them from depression, which is reason enough to get them into good sleep habits.
- Make healthy snacking a habit
Is your fridge and grocery cupboard always empty? Does your teen get home from school ravenous and eat all your snacks? It’s not their fault that they’re eating you out of house and home: they’re going through a significant growth spurt and burning more calories as a result. Instead of being alarmed, ask them which healthy snacks they prefer, and make sure you stock the pantry with these options. Hummus and veggies, lightly salted popcorn, fresh fruit and yoghurt, pretzels or biltong – if you give them a wide variety then they won’t be tempted to load up on the sugar and ultra-processed foods.
- Prioritise their mental health
Children’s and adolescent’s mental health is in crisis: according to UNICEF, nearly 1 in 7 young people across the globe experience a mental health condition. There are various reasons for this, many of which are out of our control, but the most important thing you can do as a caregiver is to keep open lines of communication and continue trying to connect with your teen or tween. Create moments which they can rely on, whether it’s every night before bed, going for a weekly walk together, or asking them how they are on a trip home in the car. Give them non-judgmental space to speak about anything they’re concerned about – sometimes simply listening is all they need. If you belong to a medical aid, you could get more mental health support: Fedhealth members, for example, get access to the Panda app which provides the necessary support channels should they or their child need to speak to a mental health professional.
As a caregiver or parent of a teen, your role is to help guide them through this period of their lives where they may feel uncertain of their place in the world, ensuring that they get all the support they need to make informed and empowered decisions. It’s not always an easy time, but teens can also be wonderful, as they discover their personalities, and the roles they want to play in their families, and broader society.