During a recent family vacation my 14 year old and I had this incredible, deep and meaningful chat as we looked out towards the crashing waves. We talked about so many things, all the things! We bounced around from one deep topic to the next: changing hormones, anxiety, chemicals that disrupting hormones, girls, the microbiome, erections (we were on a beach), fake people, media and so much more. Towards the end of our conversation he said to me, “Mom why don’t I learn this stuff in school”? He got that what we were talking about should be known by everyone; these were universal teaching topics. He wondered aloud why he learns things that seemingly have not much use in life but here were these topics that he NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT, that could make a difference in his life and that most of his friends had no idea about. I didn’t have much of an answer for him. Most of these topics were basic health and wellness, things that we all should know about and yet many of us don’t.
So how as parents can we show up to the educational needs of the youth when so many of us don’t even know what a microbiome or endocrine disruptor is? My suggestion is simple, critical thinking, curiosity, learning and engaging in conversations with them in the moments where their are openings (which means you have to constantly and intentionally create these moments or notice when they occur).
These teachable moments are huge for many reasons but the most important is that it inspires CONNECTION to their bodies and to each other. Teaching them about health and wellness from a young age will POSITIVELY impact the rest of their lives!
A “how to” that you can actually use!
How to help kids learn and practice health and wellness for their physical and emotional bodies:
Be a role model! Of course kids always learn the best by watching us! A few years ago I decided that I was going to get strong again in my body. My kids observed me putting in the time and effort to get there. They saw me sweat, cry and push forward and then asked questions like, “WHY! Why are you intentionally struggling?” They saw me work hard and they also saw how much stronger and happier I felt. They also made a ton of fun of me and my grunting noises. It brought them out of their rooms and in turn sparked conversation about how easy it is to let the priority of ourselves go and guess what they even began to occasionally join in.
Foster Curiosity: We have all heard the “nagging” comment. “Mom just let me be! Why does everything have to be a lesson.” Teens hate being lectured but they do still have curiosity in them in fact they have a lot! Remember when you wanted your toddler to do something that they were adamant that they weren’t going to listen? You had to outsmart them. For teens curiosity is the way! Instead of nagging them about eating their veggies, have a dinner conversation about the microbiome and how you are feeding the bugs inside. How these bugs actually impact our mental health and our physical wellness. Ask them if certain foods make them feel noticeably happy? Approach it with curiosity rather than a lecture. Watch a video explaining why sugar elicits a happy response. Once they have knowledge they tend to make different choices (not always) rather than do this because I said so.
Youtube Videos: What if you don’t know how to talk about something because you don’t know anything about the subject? Youtube videos are amazing ways of sharing information with kids on health and wellness and learning more yourself. Of course you need to make sure what you are watching is actually factual and there are a ton of amazing and INTERESTING people out there teaching for free. Do you want your kid to see the effects of wifi on the human body when talking to them about lowering their media consumption then check this out. Want more information about the microbiome and how we are more bugs than humans, check this out or this! Be curious in your learning with them and see where it leads you.
Create the Spaces and then jump in: Tw/teens spend more and more time in their rooms, with their friends and away from parents in general. They are beginning to have more of their own lives; THIS IS NORMAL! It is actually a good thing. They still need you! The process of individuation, that begins at this time period, helps them practice being “adult like” in a safe space. They are still dealing with big emotions, stress and decisions and need you around and available. Creating those spaces for connection and then jumping in with crucial conversations is key during this time. I encourage you to do a weekly scheduled “hang out” with your tw/eens. It doesn’t have to be elaborate! A walk, a cup of tea/coffee, a board game etc. Something where things can be brought up if needed and also fun can be had and at the very least connection is always there and assured for them and you. You often are the ones bringing up these conversations. It takes courage and you may mess up and that’s okay!
Speak to their hearts rather than their ears! Having conversations around growing up, responsibilities, peers, stress is important. Having them over and over again is too! Speak to their hearts so that they open up and hear you. Try telling them that you notice they are stressed and connecting with them on a shared experience. Ask if they want help figuring out ways to release the stress. Have them remember a time when they didn’t feel stress and now what does it feel like in their body? Have them brainstorm ways to create that feeling again, what does it look like, what do they do already that has them get to that.
Tap into the seasons: The seasons are specific times of year when things change. There is a date and time and for my family we celebrate it just like birthdays. We eat a yummy dinner with a yummy desert and talk about what we want to focus on this season; health and wellness is always a focus and how they get there is their path. We inspire one another and have a fun celebration. It also helps them have a reflection and visioning tool that they can use going forward in their life.
So what happens when you tw/teen doesn’t want to talk or be curious. KEEP TRYING! Don’t give up on them. Keep your heart and door opened and insist on weekly connection. They will eventually have moments of cracking. The early that you can start these routines and conversations they easier it will be once they get in the thick of it!