by Shadra Bruce

I’ve been writing about teens a lot lately. I think it is because, for the moment, we don’t have any. The twins just turned 21, joining their older brother in “adult”hood. The younger kids are “tweens.” It’s only now that I can reflect -with the humor of having survived – on what the roller coaster ride it is to raise the (I started to say beasts, but that’s not very nice, and they really weren’t).

In the search for independence, I was often convinced that my teens were purposely trying to drive me insane. Many bottles of wine, a few important getaways with my husband, and a few too many gray hairs later, I can now brag that my husband and I have successfully raised three teenagers to adulthood. We are well on our way to working through two more, who at 8 and 11 think they already are teenagers. When you’re talking about keeping teens healthy, it’s more than just keeping a roof over their heads and feeding them. Yes, we should be concerned with their level of nutrition and exercise, but their emotional health is important – and fragile – at this stage.

While we need to address the physical needs of our teens, we also need to keep in mind that there are many other things going on in their lives and it is our job to help them through. Providing proper nutrition for your teens is the first step, though, as complicated as it may be. It’s hard to get teens to eat well when their idea of a balanced me is fast food and the school’s idea of a balanced meal is pizza.

A home cooked meal at dinner time can make all the difference. Even though our oldest son tried to eat our family out of house (we noticed a huge difference in our grocery bill when he moved out) a home cooked meal does more than just provide nutrition for the teens. It gives them that emotional stability and grounding they need to know that they have a family there when they need them.

Too much of a focus on food, nutrition, and exercise can have a negative effect. Many teens are concerned with their body image, and while you want to promote healthy eating habits, you get a lot further leading by example than by telling your teen he’s fat while you sit in front of the TV consuming a bag of potato chips. Rather than nag at your teens to eat healthy, simply keep healthy and easy to grab snacks in the house. Replace chips with prepared veggies; keep fruits and veggies in abundant supply and don’t keep the candy bowl full all year long.

While some teens have no qualms about being active and enjoy sports and other activities, other teens are only active on their video game account. Exercise is a great outlet for the frustrations that teens have and it is important that you encourage an activity of some sort. Turn off the TV, unplug the video games, and push your teen outdoors. Better yet, go with them! Go for a walk, shoot some hoops, or head to the gym together.

A healthy diet and good exercise does not go very far unless your teen has a supportive atmosphere. They should know that you are there as back up in any situation. Communication lines should always be open and your teen should be comfortable enough to ask questions – and you need to be comfortable enough to answer them (even when you’re squirming inside). Most of all, realize that even when you finally wake up one fateful morning to discover your precious babies have been replaced by aliens with attitude, it won’t last forever. Hang in there!