What’s happening as an adolescent child matures toward adulthood is complicated, so it’s important to know what’s going on. But when parents are given insightful information, their first question is: What should I do about it? In this post I share a guest article from Patrick Bailey, a freelance writer who focuses mainly on topics related to mental health, addiction and recovery. His positive, big-picture perspective on nurturing a healthy adolescent brain should give you some ideas that will help you be proactive.
The growing adolescent brain affects every area of your child’s life. Much development occurs in the first quarter of a person’s life, and the brain relies on the proper balance of optimal nutrition and activity to remain healthy.
Cognitive deficits occur without proper nutrition. Mental illness can be enhanced without the correct healthy habits. Teaching your teens healthy habits may promote healthy brain development throughout adulthood.
Young adults do not achieve full brain development until their early twenties. Many of the neurons and tissues in their brains are forming throughout their teenage years. Without proper nutrition, children lack the minerals and nutrients needed to grow neural pathways, hormonal properties, and tissue.
Such brain development indicates the importance of nutrition in ensuring optimal brain function for your children while they are still growing. By encouraging a healthy diet, you provide your children with the vitamins and minerals they need for optimal mental health.
To provide a brain-healthy diet, be sure to include:
- Foods high in magnesium such as bananas, spinach, almonds
- Herbs, spices, and supplements such as turmeric
- Unprocessed foods or products with minimal ingredients
- Organic, plant-based foods when possible
- Foods low in substances such as caffeine
A strong fitness routine is essential to your teenager’s brain development. Regular physical activities may improve cognition, release endorphins needed for mental health, and promote activity in the brain. The short- and long-term effects of routine exercise have impacts on neuron growth and can even improve academic performance.
Teenagers develop healthy responses to stress if they learn to rely on exercise to release emotions and refuel them with endorphins and positive feelings. Challenging young adults to push themselves mentally through fitness also promotes self-care and ambition in other areas of life. Encouraging your teens to develop an exercise routine works best if you allow them to choose workouts they genuinely enjoy.
To promote physical fitness in teens, consider:
- Enrolling them in sports and physical activities that excite them
- Taking walks or running together to spend quality time with them
- Teaching them the connections between fitness and optimal body function
- Rewarding them with time outside
- Trying new fitness classes together for fun
To prepare your teenagers to engage in practices that promote good mental health:
- Educate them by providing resources
- Emphasize that they are not alone and have your support
- Encourage them to receive treatment if they need it
Many mental illnesses begin or are diagnosed in the teenage or young adult years. Young adults should understand their options if they begin to struggle. Many teens regularly visit psychologists or support groups, and developing mental health habits with your teens sets the foundation for healthy brain development in adulthood. Even if your children suffer from mental health challenges, you can promote their wellness and development by:
- Bringing them to psychologists proactively
- Providing resources for a holistic approach and other treatment options
- Teaching them how to find and use support groups and communities for common mental health challenges
- Participating in activism to reduce stigmas about mental illness and promote treatments for different conditions
- Communicating clearly to spot mental health symptoms or challenges early
Stress and Productivity
Dealing with environmental stress in a healthy way is an essential skill all young adults should learn. Without appropriate responses to common stressors for teens, children may adopt stressful behaviors and thinking as default mechanisms, which may damage their long-term neural responses to stress.
Learning how to prioritize stressful tasks, ask for help, and take action productively protects your teens’ mental health and reminds them they can exercise control over situations. Consider teaching your children how to:
- Make to-do lists or use productivity apps
- Meditate and perform deep breathing exercises
- Delegate and communicate when they need help
- Create disciplined morning and evening routines
Purpose and Fulfillment
Educating teens on how to find and execute their passions is more than an aspirational parenting tip. When young adults understand their intrinsic motivations and passions in life, it enhances their psychological wellness and cognition.
Your teens will be more likely to treat themselves well, perform better in critical tasks, and take more action towards their goals. Their brains may reward them with feel-good chemicals when they are in tune with what they want, which could motivate them even further. Teenagers who are intrinsically motivated are willing to ask for help, push themselves to succeed mentally and physically, and enjoy their lives more fully. You can help your teens develop their passions by:
- Encouraging them to execute their ideas
- Brainstorming careers and activities that spark excitement
- Showing them how to learn from failures and re-frame negativity
- Helping them find mentors
- Rewarding them for challenging themselves or taking action towards a goal
Nurturing your teenagers’ brain development is possible by taking a holistic approach to each aspect of their lives. From the foods they eat to their responses to stress, the habits and self-care they develop during their formative years are critical to their wellness and cognitive abilities in adulthood. By taking proactive steps to support them in these areas, you can be confident in your teens’ abilities to develop in a healthy way.