Recently I’ve met with a lot of teenagers in my practice who are dealing with a wide range of nutrition issues. From picky eating to poor meal and snack routines to excessive consumption of sugary drinks, these can all have a significant impact on their final stages of growth and development.
No matter what difficulties you’re having with your teen, there are a few simple steps that can help.
Step 1: Talk to Them
We can never assume anything about teenagers. While we might think we know the root cause of a problem, the only way to know for sure is to ask. I know it can be difficult to get a straight answer, but their responses are usually illuminating if you’re persistent enough to get them.
One teenager I saw recently was small and underweight. I asked him what he thought he needed to do to get bigger. His response? “Just wait.” In his mind, time was the only factor affecting his growth.
His parents were stunned. They had assumed there was some underlying problem about why he wasn’t eating enough. It turned out he just didn’t prioritize it. He truly didn’t see the connection between the food he put in his body and his personal development. After taking the time to explain this concept to him, he could see more clearly why his parents were always nagging him to eat more or make different food choices.
Step 2: Ask about their Goals
The second breakthrough with that teenager involved his personal goals – ones he had never expressed to his parents. His peers saw him as the scrawny kid at school, and he was eager to get bigger and stronger.
Of course, it’s important to help teens avoid fixating on their appearances. But we can still talk to our teens about what they want to achieve with their bodies and discuss how nutrition fits into those plans. When teenagers are able to independently verbalize the steps that they need to take in order to achieve their goals this helps set them up for success.
Step 3: Discuss How You Can Be Supportive
Parenting teenagers requires a delicate balance and a fine touch in all things – but especially with nutrition. You want to give them space to make their own decisions while also offering advice and being supportive. As a parent of a young child your job was to make decisions regarding what, where and when food was offered. Once they become teenagers, it is important to start instilling some independence with regards to food choices and meal preparation. This will set them up for success as they inch closer to entering adulthood.
I’ve seen a few practices work really well for parents. Working together on a grocery list and meal plan for the week allows teenagers to actively think about what they want to put into their bodies. They often start to see food preparation as an extension of their other interests and hobbies.
I know it’s difficult, but the more we engage our teens in conversation, the more we’ll learn about what’s going on inside their heads. We need that insight in order to help them understand the importance of nutrition and how it impacts their food choices.