How to Get Your Teen to Care About Health

If you’ve got teens, you know how it is. You’ve raised them from tiny babies to the cusp of adulthood. And you’ve worked hard to help them form good health habits. You’ve reminded them to brush their teeth, to eat their vegetables, and to shower regularly. It’s worked out pretty well: They aren’t total slobs. They’re out and on their own a lot more, making their own decisions—even driving cars. (We know! Terrifying.) Before you know it, they’ll truly be in charge of their own decisions. What more can you do to make sure they lead healthy and happy lives?

Even though their futures are largely in their hands, you still have plenty of influence over your teens and their future health. And you can accomplish a lot without throwing your parental weight around. That’s great news for everyone. Because who really likes being bossed around?

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Healthy eating may be an issue you’ve had with your kids since early on. The good news is, they probably are more adventurous and more hungry than ever when it comes to food. The not-so-great news? They’re eating out more, and a lot of what they eat when they’re out is either fast food or junk food.

Use your energy wisely. Trying to keep tabs on everything they eat when you’re not around is more trouble than it’s worth. But you can easily influence what they eat at home by stocking only healthy foods when you do the grocery shopping. Your teens will eat better, and so will the rest of your family.

Encourage Physical Activity (But Support Their Interests)

Being involved in organized sports is a great way for teens to stay healthy. They’ll get plenty of exercise, structure, and guidance from authority figures who aren’t you (which saves strain on you).

But sports can be stressful, especially when the emphasis is all on winning. And organized sports are not every teen’s idea of a good time.

Especially for teens who aren’t inclined toward sports, finding other ways to be active is key. And the best way is by appealing to the activities they find naturally appealing. Maybe that’s camping. Or yoga. Or LARPing. Or lightsaber training.

There are lots of ways to be active. Steering them toward activities that interest them may work best.

Have the Talks About Sex, Drugs, Drinking, and Smoking

Your teen’s views about sex and substance use (including alcohol and tobacco) are almost certain to be shaped by what they hear from their friends and what they see and hear online. If you want them to think anything different, you should probably talk to them about these subjects yourself.

It’s a personal topic, to be sure. Only you know what needs to be said. Whatever you need to say to your teen, make sure you say it clearly and (as much as possible) without embarrassment.

Your teens may be all about their independence, but they’re still learning a lot of their attitudes from observing yours. If you don’t seem embarrassed to talk to them, they’ll be more likely to ask you for guidance or help when the need arises.

Let Them Sleep in When They Can

Teens’ sleep patterns shift during this stage of life, meaning it’s quite normal for teens to stay up later, and sleep in later in the morning. Not that their schedules are always so accommodating. And having near-constant access to electronic devices doesn’t help.

To help them get to bed sooner rather than later, set a family policy cutting off screen time an hour or two before the target bedtime. Be sure to follow this policy yourself. You probably need more sleep, too, and your teens will appreciate the example you set (whether they let on or not). Have everyone steer clear of caffeinated sodas and energy drinks later in the day, too.

But when they can sleep in, let them. And be mindful of promoting habits like late-night study sessions and all-nighters. While it’s important to get schoolwork done on time, it’s not great to always be doing it at the expense of proper sleep. (Be mindful of the example you’re setting in this area, too.)

Stay in Touch (While Giving Them Space)

There’s no denying this is a tricky balance. Teens are in the process of finding their independence, and it’s okay—even healthy—to honor that. But chances are they still want to know you’re there for them when they need you. Keep finding ways to spend time together. One approach? Let them know they can be in charge of when and how that happens. What they come up with might pleasantly surprise you.

Are these tips foolproof? Oh, no. Every parent/teen relationship is different. And your teen is fast becoming a young adult, and on their way to truly calling all of their own shots.

One thing’s for sure: If they start out living healthy and happy, they’re that much more likely to keep on that way.

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