When it comes to teenagers and health there are a variety of issues and topics parents should be aware of, but oftentimes teens don’t share their questions or concerns with their parents. We decided to check in with some of our school nurses to see what kinds of things they’re either being asked about or overhear teens discussing at school.
Tammy Schwallenberg has been a nurse for 15 years and a school nurse at James Madison Middle School in Roanoke City for the last year and a half. Besides common topics related to teen health like puberty, Tammy says she hears lots of girls concerned about their weight. Body image is definitely a concern for teens. Heck, many women, in general, struggle with body image. It’s part of our culture today, unfortunately.
But as teens go through puberty and body changes, understanding why the body is changing can not only be physically challenging, but also emotionally challenging for teens.
“There is a lot of pressure on young girls, especially, to look and act a certain way in today’s culture,” said Schwallenberg. “But I see many of them taking unhealthy actions to achieve what they consider beautiful.
Parents really need to make sure they’re discussing healthy habits with their kids. One of the common things Tammy hears teen girls doing is skipping meals, like breakfast, to maintain their weight.
“Having a healthy breakfast each day is important to providing essential nutrients and research shows it can improve cognitive function,” explained Schwallenberg.
When a child (or adult) skips meals the body can be impacted in the following ways:
- You can’t focus –The brain runs primarily on glucose, when there isn’t enough sugar in your blood to pull from, you lose the ability to focus.
- You tend to overeat – When you deny your body food, it only wants it more. This can lead to binge eating or over-snacking and that can lead to unhealthy weight gain. Eating healthy meals each day will help you avoid snacking throughout the day.
- “Hangry” is a real thing – Skipping meals can make you jittery or anxious, which can lead to unnecessary outbursts.
So, what should parents do to make sure their kids aren’t skipping meals?
“First, make sure you explain how it’s unhealthy,” said Schwallenberg. “If your child thinks it’ll get them to their 'ideal’ body image, explain the negative impact.”
Then, encourage healthy habits.
“Children of all ages learn by example,” said Schwallenberg. “If you have healthy habits, your kids will too. Make sure you’re making time each morning for a healthy breakfast. It can be something quick and easy, and then they’ll be less likely to make skipping meals routine.
Monitor their exercise.
“Along with skipping meals, I hear a lot of young girls participating in excessive exercise to maintain a ‘healthy’ weight,” said Schwallenberg. “What they don’t realize is, coupled with skipping meals, they don’t have the nutrients to properly workout.”
When the body is under-nourished or malnourished, exercise can easily lead to injuries, under performance, lightheadedness and other long-term health issues.
“Again, promoting a healthy lifestyle is key,” said Schwallenberg. “In order to maintain healthy weight and a healthy lifestyle in general, parents must emphasize to their kids that the only way to achieve this is through balance. Everything must be done in moderation not extremes.”
If you’re not sure if your teenager is practicing healthy habits when it comes to diet and exercise – talk to them. Then, lead by example.