Powering up teenagers

Nicola - Friday, October 4, 2013

Our future investment

The theme of this year’s blog is TLC. Therapeutic Life-styles need to be taught. Aside from our genetic blue-print, our physical and mental health starts from the moment we are born. Frightening thing is I just read an article reporting that children today are more sedentary and unfit and unhealthier than their parents’ generation. The stretching life span will reverse. Worse, teen mental health is also deteriorating. Teenagers in Australia are increasingly experiencing stress, depression, and anxiety, and other mental health issues, and many unfortunately are not taught how to take care of themselves to maximize their growth, reach their potential and increase their resilience. Children are our and the nation’s most important investment.

For many teens basic therapeutic life-style challenges are sleep and diet. Start today with your children no matter what age because healthy habits stick. Let them know that by nurturing their basic health they can realize their dreams.

Teen sleep: rest and recuperation for growth and energy
Teens are notorious for staying up late and being hard to awaken in the morning- this is actually normal and has a physical cause. However, teens need to get to school so it is important to assist them to improve the quality and quantity of their sleep. Everyone has an internal 24 hour clock. The biological and psychological processes that follow the cycle of this 24-hour internal clock are called circadian rhythms. Before adolescence, these circadian rhythms direct most children to naturally fall asleep around 8 or 9 p.m. But puberty changes a teen’s internal clock, delaying the time he or she starts feeling sleepy — often until 11 p.m. or later. Staying up late to study or socialize can disrupt a teen’s internal clock even more. Teens’ sleep requirements are similar to pre-teens, therefore much more than adult requirements.

Late primary age children and teens need about nine to ten hours of sleep a night to maintain optimal daytime alertness- to learn and concentrate. But few teens actually get that much sleep regularly, thanks to factors such as, early-morning classes, homework, extracurricular activities, social demands, and use of computers and other electronic gadgets. More than 90% of teens sleep less than the recommended nine hours a night, and 10% of teens reported sleeping less than six hours a night.

Teen sleep deprivation can have serious consequences- it impairs brain function, causes behavioural difficulties and is a risk factor for mental illness. Sleep is vital for learning and development. Teens need sleep to be the best person they can be today and the person they become in the future as sleep influences the development of their brain. Teach your children to go to sleep when tired, not at the end of a television show. Talk to your teen about turning off the gadgets- have a place outside of the bedroom for them, get screens and TVs out of bedrooms. Encourage healthy sleep routines and regular times for waking. And if there is too much homework tell the school your child’s sleep is more important- it really is.

Teen diet: fuel for teen brain power
Teens have very busy schedules- with school, homework, sports and possible jobs many are working more than 40 hours each week. They have high nutritional needs but may not always have healthy food available- and stress and fatigue in particular propel teens towards highly processed foods high in salt, fat, and sugar. Research suggest that only 10% of teens eat sufficient fruit and vegetables. A study in the UK found that a highly processed diet is associated with higher rates of mental illness. The brain needs vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables, as well as proteins and complex carbohydrates, to function properly. Nutritional health affects learning and memory as well as mood. Neurotransmitters- which communicate between brain cells -are reliant upon a healthy diet. The brain takes approximately 25% of the nutritional value of the foods we eat so for its size is a very hungry organ. Make healthy foods and snacks readily available- fruit smoothies, vegetable juices, fresh fruit and vegetables sticks, nuts, yogurt, hard boiled eggs. If it is a ‘grab and go’ it is much more likely to be consumed.

We all need to get the fundamentals right and then we can really grow and blossom. Help your child and teen to get it right.