In the context of the entire lifespan, adolescence covers a short period of time from 13-20. While definitions vary, the preteen or "tween" years occur sometime between ages 9-13.
... Yet Extremely Important
In just a few years, tremendous growth and development occurs. Major physical, cognitive, social and emotional changes occur during the teen years. Youth will acquire 15-20% of their height, 50% of their adult weight and 45% of their total skeletal mass during these years. As a result, total nutritional needs are at a lifetime high.
Filled With Choices
Today’s teens have more choices about their life. With both parents working, it is often up to teens to decide how to spend those after-school hours. Many teens have more disposable income, a factor which also influences their food choices.
As children become teens, they are influenced more by their peers and less by adult role models. Their eating habits may mirror what friends are eating and the food served at their favorite hangouts.
Living with a teen is never boring. Just as they may try on tons of clothes at the mall, they also seem to "try on" different personalities. This is part of their normal psychological development, particularly as they attempt to distinguish themselves as individuals who are different from their parents. Adolescents are particularly susceptible to food fads and jags and may change their eating style often.
Abrupt changes in eating, sleep habits, or academic performance can be signs of trouble, including problems such as depression, eating disorders or substance abuse. Be aware and get help for your teen if you observe troubling changes in their habits or personality.
Not the Time for parents to "Check Out"
This is the hard part. When teens seem to be pushing us away and want less of our guidance, there may be a tendency for parents to feel resigned and "give up," at least in a nutritional sense. In addition, it may seem at times like what teens eat is the least of a parent’s worries! While it is true that your child is making most of the choices that affect his/her health and nutrition, know that you still have a role in promoting healthful habits.
What to do:
Personalize good nutrition for your teen. An athlete will be interested in how nutrition can improve sports performance, a budding chef will be interested in cooking up healthy dishes and an academic-focused teen will be interested in how proper nutrition maximizes brain power. Many teens are consumed with their appearance so any connection between nutrition and healthy weight, hair and skin will make an impression.
Continue to offer mostly healthy food choices at home. Stock your kitchen with plenty of healthful snack choices such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, yogurt, lean deli meats/whole grain buns, baked chips, burritos, whole grain cereal, milk, bottled water and 100% fruit juice.
Don’t give up.
While your efforts may seem futile, be assured that you are establishing a healthy foundation that your child will eventually return to. Strive for family meals, at least a few times each week. Teens who eat with their families have better nutrition, higher academic scores and even less "high-risk" behavior. Continue to role model healthy eating and exercise behaviors. It may not be apparent, but your teen is watching you!