Healthy Lifestyles - Diet, exercise & sleep

13-16 years

Teenage years are a time when your young people grow and develop really quickly, and the requirements for some vitamins and minerals, like calcium and iron, is fairly high. The age at which your child will have a growth spurt will vary, but in girls the growth spurt normally peaks at 12.5 years of age, and in boys at age 14 years of age.

Teenage years are a time when your young people grow and develop really quickly, and the requirements for some vitamins and minerals, like calcium and iron, is fairly high. The age at which your child will have a growth spurt will vary, but in girls the growth spurt normally peaks at 12.5 years of age, and in boys at age 14 years of age.

How much teenager’s grow in height varies between the different stages of puberty (called Tanner stages) as well as between girls and boys.

Many lifestyle changes take place during adolescence. When children start secondary school, they often have more independence and greater control over the choices they make. This is a time when you suggest one thing and your young person appears to do exactly the opposite. They can often make decisions about what and when they want to eat, and how they spend their free time.

Media can often be a challenge promoting the ‘thin’ body ideal, as well as challenging other aspects of your family values and beliefs. This may result in difficulty for them knowing what a healthy weight and lifestyle is, and this has the potential to lead to unhealthy eating habits and beliefs. 

It is important to listen to what your young people are saying, and explore with them what their views and opinions are; acceptance and understanding your child’s point of view, even if you don’t agree, is an essential part of parenting adolescents to keep lines of communication open. 

If you build good routines around healthy eating and exercise, they will have an understanding that people come in all different shapes and sizes, and by eating a healthy, varied diet and taking part in regular physical activity, their weight should stay healthy. 

Supporting your teenagers’ healthy eating

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day - it boosts energy levels, as it will have been a long time since your teenager last ate. Having good routines and planning creative breakfasts whether in the home or on the way to school with your young people will reduce the temptation for them to fill up on sweets/unhealthy snacks.

Three meals a day

breakfast, lunch and dinner is the way to go. It takes planning, but by trying to make sure each meal includes at least one portion of fruit or vegetables and starchy foods such as whole wheat pasta, wholemeal bread, or potatoes with their skins you will support a healthy lifestyle for your child and provide routines and habits that they carry on as they grow up.

Find ways of working with your young person so that they can eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day (fresh, frozen, canned and dried all count). Examples of what counts as one of your five a day can be found on the NHS Eatwell website.

Boost their iron

It is important that teenagers eat plenty of foods containing iron, especially for girls who lose iron when they have their period. Iron is important for making red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. Almost 50% of teenage girls do not get enough iron in their diet.

Promote foods that build up their bones

Teenagers need high amounts of calcium because their bones are growing in size and density, which makes youth the best time to “invest” in our bone health.

Encourage drinking plenty of fluids

Especially when taking part in exercise and physical activity, as the body loses water as sweat. Aim for about 6 to 8 glasses each day. The best sources of fluid include water and low-fat milk.

It is good to have a refillable  bottle of water that they can take with them to school; or have water on the table at meal times.

Find ways to snack sensibly 

Going for healthier snack choices such as: fruit (fresh or dried), a small handful of unsalted mixed nuts and/or seeds, Low-fat yogurts, wholemeal pitta bread with lower-fat dips is better to maintain a healthy weight.

The likelihood is that your young person will eat fast food. We know these foods can be high in saturated fat, salt and/or sugars, which can be bad for health when eaten in large amounts so it is important that you share the facts with your young person so they can be clear about the choices they make.

Exercise

In the digital world, where friendships are frequently online and virtual, there is a risk that teenagers might spend too much time sitting down. Take time to be active with your child, playing sport, going for a bike ride as it can improve sleep, instil good routines, help them maintain a healthy weight and improve their general wellbeing.

On average teenagers should try and do at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day, ranging between moderate (e.g. walking or cycling to school) and vigorous activity (e.g. running or playing a sport). This time can be a great opportunity for them to join a club if they like team sports, which can also be a great way for them to meet new friends.

How to improve your teenager’s sleep

Sleep is food for the brain and is a vital component to maintaining well-being. It is as important as the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. The NHS recommends that teenagers receive a minimum of 8 to 9 hours' good sleep on school nights.

Some tips to help your teenager with sleep include:

Limit digital devices in the bedroom

If possible don't have them in the bedroom at all. Light from the screen interferes with sleep and having screens in the bedroom also means your teenager is more likely to stay up late interacting with friends on social media. Encourage your teenager to have at least 30 minutes of screen-free time before going to sleep.

Exercise for better sleep

Regular exercise helps you sleep more soundly, as well as improving general and mental health.

Reduce or cut out caffeine

Suggest that your teenager drinks less caffeine – found in drinks such as cola, tea and coffee – particularly in the 4 hours before bed. Caffeine can stop them falling asleep and reduce the amount of deep sleep they have. So consider providing alternatives that you and your teenager choose together.

Have a good routine
Encourage your teenager to keep a regular bedtime routine that you agree together. Doing the same things in the same order an hour or so before bed can help them drift off to sleep.

Eating before bedtime

We know that eating too much, or too little, close to bedtime can lead to an overfull or empty stomach. This can be a cause of discomfort during the night and may prevent sleep. Discuss this with your teenager and agree what bedtime snacks will fit into their routine and help them get good nights of sleep.

Create a sleep-friendly bedroom

Ensure your teenager has a good sleeping environment, even if sharing a room with siblings. Ideally a room that is dark, cool, quiet and comfortable. 

Share time to talk through any problems or worries

This will help them to put their problems into perspective and sleep better. Encouraging them to jot down their worries or make a to-do list before they go to bed should mean they're less likely to lie awake worrying during the night.

Minimise long weekend lie-ins

Encourage your teen to not sleep in for hours at weekends. Late nights and long lie-ins can disrupt their body clock and leave them with weekend "jet lag" on Monday morning.​​​​​

Further Resources

The NHS Eatwell Guide shows the proportions in which different food types are needed for us all to have a well-balanced and healthy diet.

J Coleman - Conversation not Confrontation provides tips and advice for talking to teenagers