Caloosa Belle

Lesson Five: Healthful habits

Over the past four weeks, the ‘Life skills: preparing adolescents for adulthood’ series has touched on creating motivation for setting personal goals, broadening executive functioning skills, creating independent living and self-reliance skills as well as how to fine-tune academic skills. In order to reach these goals and obtain these skills, developing adolescents also need to acquire healthy habits such as getting enough sleep, maintaining a healthy diet, and making time for exercise.

Many parents are often complaining about the somewhat random sleep patterns of their teens. Why does he stay up so late? Why does he sleep in so late? One thing that is important to understand is that sleep is fuel for the brain. As children emerge into adolescence, their biological sleep patterns naturally shift from ‘early to bed and early to rise’ to waking up later and going to sleep later. It’s quite common for teens to not be able to fall asleep until 11:00 p.m. For this reason, research is showing that it might be in the best interest of adolescents to have later school start times. This would give them the needed time to fully recharge their brains, and perhaps perform better each day.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep is vital to an adolescent’s growth and development. It can help reduce their stress levels, improve focusing ability, control skin problems and help maintain a better diet. A lack of sleep can lead to irritability, weight gain, illness, increased use of caffeine, drugs or alcohol and drowsiness (think about falling asleep behind the wheel). Teens need approximately 8 to 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night to function best. Putting the books or electronic devices away early in the evening as well as staying away from caffeinated beverages might help. These are known stimulants that can interfere with the ability to let the brain wind down.

Sadly, most teens do not get enough sleep. By staying up late and sleeping in on the weekends, adolescents are lessening the quality of their sleep and basically sabotaging their own biological sleep clock. As a parent, if you notice that your teen appears to be having serious sleep deprivation, it might be a good idea to talk to a doctor and see if your adolescent is suffering from treatable sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy, insomnia, restless legs syndrome or sleep apnea.

Maintaining a healthy eating style can be a challenge for any age. It’s become so convenient to just “grab and go” when it comes to snacks and meals. Just as the brain needs sleep to function properly, it also requires plenty of water and nutritious food. Help your teen make good choices by limiting the amount of junk food in the house, keeping healthy snacks readily available, forgoing the sweet tea or soda, and modeling how to make healthy choices when eating out. Of course the occasional treat is not going to be detrimental – it’s just better to learn how to eat these treats in moderation.

If your teen is a couch potato, then it’s definitely time to get up and move. Turn off the televisions, gaming devices, iPads and phones, and make exercise a top priority. Even if organized sports are not their thing, there is no reason teens can’t go for walks, shoot some hoops, bike, dance, work in the yard or join a gym. Just as sleep and a good diet are vital to a healthy lifestyle, exercise plays an important roll in an adolescent’s development too. It helps form strong bones and muscles, keeps skin clear, increases relaxation, allows for better sleep, creates positive moods, promotes stronger immune function and assists with maintaining a healthy weight. Overall, consistent exercise just makes people feel better physically and mentally.

In reality, parents truly only have so much control over their teenagers. By controlling the available resources (time for restful sleep, healthful foods and movement opportunities), parents can help influence their adolescent’s healthy lifestyle choices. Teaching teens to value themselves and their bodies is an integral part of transitioning from adolescence to adulthood.

Life skills: preparing adolescents for adulthood is part of a 10-week series that will run in the Caloosa Belle.