How to keep your teenager healthy
Healthy teen

One minute your children are under your control. You’re (mostly) in charge of their diet, sleeping and exercise. Then they become a teenager.

Now they’re up ’til all hours, spending their lunch money on soft drinks and chips (or worse, eating nothing because they’re on a diet) and starting to talk about quitting sport.

Physiologically and emotionally speaking, what happens during these teen years plays an important role in shaping their adult future.

Some adolescent facts

There’s a lot going on in the teenage body, such as:

•    Monumental growth spurt: in the early to mid teens the growth rate doubles to between 5cm and 8cm a year.
•    Brain action: The adolescent grey matter may have reached 95 percent of its size, but there’s some vital wiring going on which is necessary for them to become morally culpable adults.
•    Them bones: The body’s bones reach 90 percent of their peak density during the teenage years so they need to increase their daily calcium intake by 300mg (or a cup of skim milk) a day, bringing their need for dairy up to four serves a day.

What can parents do to keep their teenager’s lifestyle healthy?

Jo Vaughan, national training manager from Life Education, which provides drug and health education at schools, agrees it can be a tricky time for mums and dads as they have less hands-on control over what their kids eat and do.

Her key message to parents is to stay involved in their adolescents’ lives.

“Keep that connection with your child strong,” she says. “You can invest the time in your child and be interested in their lives without being overly nosy or interfering – because teens need space as well to learn to be independent.”

Her tips are common sense and include:


  • Keep the fridge, pantry and fruit box stocked with mainly healthy snacks and meal options.
  • Model healthy lifestyles yourselves. Research shows kids are heavily influenced by their parents’ eating and exercise habits.
  • Understand kids may quit sport. “If they want to quit team sport, encourage them to do something else and offer to do it with them, or at least show an interest,” says Jo.
  • Be aware of their nutritional requirements and help them meet these. Like everyone, teenagers need a certain amount of fruit, vegetables, fibre, dairy and calcium every day to stay healthy. “If you can’t control what they’re eating at lunch, try to make sure they have a healthy dinner at least, and healthy breakfast options available.”

One of the frustrating things for parents is hammering home the healthy message to their invincible kids.

Research has shown even if kids don’t care about cancer or their future health, they do worry about their appearance. So telling them, for example, smoking will prematurely age them or make their breath smell bad, or eating only chips, soft drink and lollies can make their skin break out and their teeth rot, can have an impact.

Another trick for parents is through the teen hip pocket. Teens are always hungry but often reluctant to part with too much money to feed themselves, and so end up buying cheap soft drinks and chips from discount stores. Pack them a nutritious lunch or some snacks and they’re likely to eat it, if only because they’re saving up for a new iPod or skateboard.

Promoting a positive body image

Wrapped up in the ‘keeping healthy’ message is also the need to promote a positive body image. A poor body image is one of the strongest risk factors in developing conditions like anorexia and bulimia, according to the Butterfly Foundation, a charitable organisation that supports eating disorder sufferers and their carers.

Statistics show it’s during teen years extreme dieting begins with 90 percent of 12-17 year old girls and 68 percent of 12–17 year old boys saying they have been on a diet of some kind. A 2011 Mission Australia survey of 50,000 young Australians found body image, and how they look, was their leading personal concern.

Experts say the strongest and most effective way parents can deliver a balanced and positive message around body image is by role modelling healthy behaviour related to exercise, food and their own bodies so the focus is on health rather than just on appearance.

This article was written by Fiona Baker for and has been adapted for

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