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6 Ways to Communicate with Teens About Health

by Jane Wangersky | February 12th, 2016 | Communication, Teens

fruitGetting through to your teen about healthy living takes some work. Teens usually hate to be talked at — and they’re quick to let you see that — and they may have a feeling that health issues are something that happen to other people, not them. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do.

  • Of course, the most basic way to get your teen to live a healthy life is to set an example by living one yourself. By eating healthy food, avoiding drugs and alcohol, and getting enough exercise — maybe even asking your teen to join you — you’re sending a strong message without saying a word.
  • Since you’re in charge of the food supply at home, you can also make a statement by having only or mostly healthy food available, though it’s best not to freak out if your teen buys junk food with his own money.
  • Speaking of food, a recent study found teens and young adults had a hard time figuring out nutrition labels. Parents can help out by focusing on labels ourselves, and doing it out loud (“Let’s see, what do they think a ‘serving’ is? Three crackers?”) Concentrate on fat, sugar, and sodium. It’s not time for your teen to be worrying about things like Vitamin B12 yet.
  • The U.S. government has started advising parents to use text messages to share health information with teens. As the Office of Adolescent Health says, “For teens, and even younger children, real-time text-based communications on a cell phone or other mobile device now are the norm.” Communicating this way may seem awkward to you, but if you want to try it, there are sample messages for different occasions here and here. I have to admit my personal favorite is the one that begins, “It took me forever to write this text, but just wanted to say hi.”
  • However, avoid texting your teen when they’re likely to be driving. The urge to see what the message is can be overwhelming, and even if they know they don’t have to answer because it’s just Mom, reading a text while driving can be as dangerous as writing one.
  • The OAH also recommends using movies and TV to start conversations about issues like sexuality and health. The fact that these things are often presented unrealistically in the media just makes it easier for you to jump in and talk about what real life has taught you. And that’s what your teen needs from you.
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