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From Surviving to Thriving Adolescence

December 22, 2020

I’m Dr. Lindsay
I'm a naturopathic pediatrician based in Colorado Springs offering primary care, chronic care & telemedicine appointments. I'm so glad you're here!
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Adolescence is synonymous with the “P” word – Puberty. The transition from child to teen is a time riddled with changes of every kind – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. That’s why parents often feel they go into survival mode as they tiptoe around their pre-teens and teens to avoid any drama. We can do better. There are ways to make puberty less traumatizing, and therefore, keep a good relationship with your kids throughout the transition.

What is puberty?

Puberty. This one word causes fear and dread for parents. Cranky, sassy, ornery, and tired teens leave parents wanting to pull their hair out and throw in the towel. We all go through it, so why is puberty so daunting?

Puberty begins once the brain starts releasing hormones in large quantities. This triggers organ development and body changes. All these changes put stress on the body as it goes through major changes to keep up with the new demands. During this time the body needs proper nutrition, exercise, and healthy sleep habits. Satisfying these needs will help ease the chaos of puberty.

Why are teenagers so hungry?

The body’s growth demands an increase in calories, an increase in both macronutrients (carbs, proteins, and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). It is tempting and easy to buy a bunch of chips and crackers, they are cheap. It seems that your teen never stops eating, but this will only lead the body to crave more of those foods in order to satisfy the new increase in demands.

Teens need nutrition, not empty calories

The problem with those easy solutions are they overload the body with fats and calories but not much else. Too many unhealthy fats from greasy, fried, and artificial foods cause our brain to crave those foods and stop it from telling our body what it really needs, effective nutrition. When the body is malnourished, meaning its not getting a balance of the macronutrients and micronutrients, it goes into stress mode.

What happens when teens are stressed?

When stressed our immune system is compromised and the organs processing the flood of hormones from puberty are more stressed. The body does not have enough fuel to meet the demands. Puberty is an opportunity to help establish good eating habits that teens can take into adulthood.

Prevent sports injuries in teens

The proper nutrition also helps our bones, tendons, ligaments, and muscles stay strong and not succumb to injuries as easily. We often think of calcium when we think of strong bones, and we forget about vitamin D. It is crucial to helping minerals like calcium get assimilated into the bones to make them stronger. Other vital nutrients for strengthening joints, tendons, and ligaments include vitamin C, zinc, omega 3 fats, and protein.

What type of exercise to teens need?

Exercise can seem like a giant task. Often we think of exercise as gym time. This is not the only way to exercise. Exercise refers to an organized event while physical activity is much broader and emcompasses a variety of activities.

When thinking about exercise needs during puberty, think about movement. We want teens to move! They can go swim, canoe, fish, hike, garden, help clean, walk, bowl, get a paintball team together – in short, anything that involves movement at its core. Moving the body on the outside gets things moving on the inside and helps everything in the body communicate to each other to keep the growing going in a positive direction.

Exercise helps teen hormone changes

Moving helps regulate the body, a healthy antidote to stress and frustration from all the hormones circulating in our bloodstream. We want our bodies to move during this growing period to tell our body that we need all the growth we can get.

How can I get my teen to exercise?

Find things that your teen is interested in to make physical activity enjoyable instead of a chore. These habits will help them during adulthood, and staying active while young builds the foundation for healthy habits as adults. Movement keeps our bodies and immune systems strong, minimizing injuries and illnesses.

Why is sleep important for teens?

As teens grow, they seem to want to become nocturnal, staying up late and sleeping in. Teens need to socialize and bond with friends but healthy sleep patterns and habits are critical to a teen’s health. It does not matter if you are a night person or a morning person, proper sleep is just as important as eating and moving.

Sleep allows our bodies to rest and relax and let our subconscious take over for a bit while our brain filters all the information for the day. It stores the important parts and gets rid of other information it won’t need.

Why does my teenager sleep so much?

During puberty the body is in overdrive trying to manage the hormones pumping out so it can stay on course to grow. When teens don’t get the full rest they need brain and body communication starts breaking down resulting in short tempers and a bad attitude. We often consider eight hours to be the norm, but growing teens may need more to process the experiences of the day properly. Help set a schedule and routine with your teen so that you both can ease through this emotional time as well as you can.

How to help teens through puberty

Puberty is an exhilarating time but can be fraught with stress and challenges. Not only does the body change but life experiences at the same time can make it chaotic. A teen going through puberty needs tools to help manage some of the experience.

  • Proper nutrition provides the fuel the body needs to grow and develop.
  • Proper exercise habits provide outlets for the stressors of life and strengthen the body.
  • Sleep provides the opportunity for the body to process all of our work and reap the rewards for proper nutrition and exercise.

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