With the shift into the digital age also came a shift in what we eat. Out are homemade meals consumed on set times surrounded by family, in came our need for snacking and take-away foods. Fibre and nutrient-dense foods made place for sugar, unhealthy fats and lab-created foods. And the group of people who are proficient in anything digital struggle to look after themselves in terms of how to cook. Sure, they can call upon a vast amount of beautiful pictures of healthy superfoods, but often these little showcase meals lack the right amount nutrients for a growing young person.
Adolescence is an important period of growth, physically but also mentally. Children are transitioning into adulthood and go through growth spurts. There are changing the way they think, and encounter all different (extreme) emotions. A healthy diet with adequate nutrients is, especially in this time, important to fuel all these changes. But the statistics are not good. Only 5 % of the Australian adolescents reach their daily requirements of fruit and vegetables, meaning they not only lack the crucial vitamins and minerals, but also fibre!
Not only is what they are lacking, equally detrimental is what they eat instead. With the opportunity for the first time in their life to actually choose what they eat, often the teenagers regress to what we nutritionists call a ‘Western diet’, a diet with unhealthy fat and sugar. Numerous studies carried out in different countries and social economic backgrounds have produced results are (mostly) the same. Eating a bad diet has an effect on your mental wellbeing. A study in New Zealand concluded the unhealthier the diet, the greater the depressive symptoms and emotional difficulties.
And a Norwegian study of youngsters between 12 and 13 year olds showed a significant association between eating patterns and mental health problems. A diverse diet, rich in unrefined food and regular meals were associated with better mental health.
The number of mental disorders in our teenagers are increasing. But it is not just effecting this generation now. Continuing with an unhealthy lifestyle has an roll on effect for the future as well. Teaching your teenager about healthy eating now will lay the foundation for strong mental health. And although we cannot take away all the obstacles they will face in the future, as much as we want to, we can fuel them up, so they can cope with it better.
We have to ask ourselves, with social media having a greater impact on our lives, how much attention, how much power (!!) do we allow the influencers to have over our children? We want to know with whom our children hang out, but do we also know who is filling their head with ideas about what is healthy? In fact, a recent article in which they tested the advice from well-known bloggers showed that 8 out of 9 times the advice given was incorrect.
Influencing your teenagers as a parent is difficult. I know from my own experience as a mother of two (almost) teenagers! Making lunches has now the same challenges as when they were just in Primary school. Half-eaten sandwiches and mouldy apples line their schoolbags, and I have to refrain myself again for not to ‘sell’ their lunch – it is really nice, you’ll enjoy it, healthy too!
So what can we do to make a shift? The obvious choice is to limit the time your teenagers is exposed to screens. And having access to his or her account would be the next. Then you know at least what they are looking at, and the messages they are receiving. Hopefully, you are able to start the discussion with them. The dinner table (or breakfast/lunch or lengthy afternoon tea, whenever you have time to share a meal together) is a great place to make memories and share what is going on in each other’s life.
Because whether it works for you to have them make their own lunch (with a kitchen of healthy choices) or there is one designated ‘lunch-maker’ that doesn’t matter. It is important that children and adolescents start to realise that how they fuel their body has impact on how they act and feel. They have to start making the connection between themselves and their surroundings. They should start make the connection between how they FEEL and what they eat. Taking responsibility for your own health, wellbeing and actions is that all important part of being an adult.