If you think your child isn’t listening to you, think again. During the adolescent period from age 10 through 26, the College of Medicine’s Dr. Lisa Barkley*, says parents have a tremendous opportunity to plant the “SSEED” for healthy habits that can last a lifetime.
- Sleep – Never underestimate the power of sleep, especially for adolescents. Teens need at least eight hours of sleep per night, and sometimes more during growth periods. This also is a time to help your child establish good “sleep hygiene” habits like nightly routines that signal the body to prepare for restful sleep. Most important for this age group is turning off all electronic devices, from cell phones to televisions.
- Stress – Ask any parent and they’ll tell you that kids are more stressed out than ever before. It’s the plague of modern times that can lead to chronic diseases if not handled appropriately. As parents, it’s important to teach your child good stress management skills. Many kids relax by playing music or participating in sporting activities, while others release tension by talking with friends or journaling. Talk with your child to see how they handle stress, and make sure there’s enough downtime. In fact, consider reserving one day a week where there are no plans at all.
- Exercise – With so many ways to stay connected with friends through technology, it’s no wonder that kids don’t exercise as much as they used to. However, their body’s need for exercise hasn’t changed. Experts recommend that adolescents younger than 18 years of age get an hour of vigorous physical activity a day, and those 18 and older need 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. And who knows, as your child exercises more, his or her stress levels may decrease.
- Environment – Take a close look around your home and really analyze how your adolescent is spending his or her time. Consider limiting the amount of time interacting with technology-from cell phones and computers to video games and television-to two hours per day. Also consider taking a holiday from electronics. For example, try going for an entire Sunday afternoon with no electronics of any type…parents, too. This may be easier to implement when you consider that by age 20, most adolescents have been exposed to 500,000 deaths through electronic media. By limiting their “screen time,” you’re also helping to prevent them from being desensitized to violence.
- Diet – Getting your adolescent to eat at least five fruits and veggies per day may be a tall order, but it is important for their overall health. Also limit sugary beverages (or at least reserve them for special occasions) and encourage them to drink more water. And think “farm to table” when it comes to food selections, trying very hard to avoid processed foods and artificial sweeteners whenever possible.
According to Dr. Barkley, parents don’t have to be perfect. However, they should be good role models for the types of healthy lifestyle habits they’re trying to instill in their adolescents.
*Dr. Barkley treats patients at UCF Pegasus Health, and is the Assistant Professor and Assistant Dean of Diversity and Inclusion at the UCF College of Medicine.