Healthy Habits and Your Teen: How to Make Them Stick

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If you have a roomful of 20 typical American teenagers, how many do you think get enough sleep and exercise? If you said only one, you win: Only 5 percent of U.S. teens hit these health benchmarks.

Maybe your teen is part of that 5 percent. But chances are they’re not. And the habits he or she is forming now may stay with them for decades.

Most teens are falling short in a third area that should be of little surprise to their parents: screen time. Teens should spend fewer than two hours a day in front of a screen, a limit many of them hit before lunchtime.

Going to bed late or not exercising might seem like a big deal for your child. But not meeting these three goals — for exercise, sleep and screen time — may put your child’s physical and mental health at risk. It could also be keeping them from reaching their full potential at school.

But you didn’t come here for a lecture. You want ideas. Here’s how to help your teen actually learn to enjoy what’s good for them.

Rules for Sleep

Sleep comes naturally, but good sleep habits do not. Here’s how to help your teen get the eight to 10 hours of sleep they need each night:

  • Set firm rules around screen time before bed. Experts recommend keeping all screens out of kids’ bedrooms and avoiding screen time at least one hour before bedtime.
  • Be a good role model. If your kids see you getting enough shut-eye, it’s more likely they will, too.
  • Encourage them to exercise. There’s a connection between staying active and sleeping soundly.
  • Cut out the caffeine in the four hours before bed. Caffeine not only makes it hard to sleep, it can also reduce the amount of deep sleep your teen gets.
  • Watch the midnight snacks. Eating too much or too little before bedtime can lead to digestion troubles or rumbling stomachs.
  • Watch the weekend sleep-ins. Late nights and late mornings on weekends can disrupt your body’s clock and leave you with Monday morning “jet lag.”

Exercise 60 Minutes a Day

Kids ages 6 to 17 should spend at least an hour a day in physical activity, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. It helps them keep a positive body image, while also reducing the risk of stress and depression.

Whether your child is a self-motivated athlete or not tips can help you make it happen:

  • Encourage your teens to join a sport that interests them. The more they enjoy it, the more likely they are to stick with it. If they don’t want to play a sport, they may need more encouragement to stay active.
  • Find activities to do together. Try taking a walk after dinner, going for a bike ride, or trying out a new sport, such as rock climbing, yoga or martial arts.
  • Again, be a role model. If your kids see you making time to get moving — and that you enjoy it — they may do so themselves (even if they don’t admit it).

Putting Screens in Their Place

Learning when to use a phone and when to put it away is a skill that teens should be learning now, before they go to college or start a career. These sensible rules can keep screen time in check:

  • Make mealtimes screen-free. Ban cell phones from the table and keep the TV off.
  • Share some screen time together. Use the opportunity to discuss difficult topics that arise in a movie or TV show.
  • Set limits on how much time your teen spends in front of a screen and stick to them.
  • Follow the rules yourself. You’re an important role model and your kids will learn by your behavior.

These healthy habits reach into every part of your teen’s life: the physical, emotional and spiritual. Just as they may not always come easily in your life, some challenges are inevitable.

But the rewards are worth it.

We believe health isn’t about avoiding illness. It’s about living a full life, one that’s satisfying, active and joy-filled. To learn more about how we help families thrive, visit our website.

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