You want your teenager to understand that when they stay up all night, they’ll be tired the next day and lack focus, or that eating junk food will affect their mood. Your first instinct has been to nag them into better habits…you’ve tried pestering and dropping hints but nothing is changing. Now what? How can you teach your teen self care? 

The first thing that you need to know: you can’t control what your teenager is going to do. You can certainly try to, but it’s not going to work in the long-run. What you can do is teach them how to listen to their body. Once they’re in tune with their body, they’ll be better equipped for a future outside of your house, and they’ll be making better decisions even without you there to remind them. 

It takes three simple steps:

  1. Self-evaluate –> Ask yourself…Are you currently practicing the kind of healthy self care you want your teen to start?
  2. Lead, don’t lecture –> Focus on being a role model for your teen, not a constant voice of criticism about what they’re currently doing
  3. Let them in on your process –> Tell them what you’re doing, and how your self care makes you feel. Let them in on your thoughts and feelings! 

First Things First: Check Yo’ Self

If you’re constantly running around like a crazy person, if you’re unregulated emotionally, if you’re not making any room for your own physical self care…you’re not exactly setting a good example. How can you teach your teen self care when you’re saying one thing and doing another? 

This is one of the most important lessons that parents need to learn. Many of us were raised to believe that kids should just do as they’re told. We were never taught that teenagers actually learn best through observing (AKA Do as I do). 

Be a role model: lead, don’t lecture 

If you decide to start modeling better self care for your teen, start by letting your teen know that you’re making a change to your routine. It can be as simple as mentioning, “Hey guys, I’ve decided I’m going to go for a half-hour walk every day. If you want to join me, feel free.” Chances are they won’t come, and that’s okay! It’s simply about modeling healthy behaviour to teach your teen self care.

As you notice changes from your new routine, mention it! Say, “I’ve started to notice that my brain feels clearer after a walk. I feel a lot less stressed, and I’m sleeping better. I notice that I’m walking further and further, and I’m proud of that.” Keep the invitation open—they still may not take you up on it, but make sure they know they can join at any time. Just keep your expectations low! Teaching your teens about self care is not an overnight process. It’s going to take time and patience (because this isn’t about doing it for your teen or having expectations your teen will just jump up and do what you do). 

You can use this exact same process for emotional self care and mental health. Self-evaluate and ask yourself…Do I incorporate meditation, prayer, or yoga into my routine? Do I take naps or carve out quiet time in my day? How do I make sure to take care of myself? Do I model vulnerability, and ask for help?

Again, if you answer “no” to any of these questions, then you’re not modeling the behaviour you want to your teen to magically take on. You’re expecting them to focus on what you say, not what you do.

Building body awareness

When we drill down on what self care actually is, it’s about listening to what your body needs. But many teenagers have very little body awareness. It’s not because they’re incapable of it—it’s just that they’ve never been taught (and their brains are a little chaotic right now)! No one has ever asked them, “How do you feel in your body after you eat that?” So start by letting your teen in on how you feel: “I noticed since I’ve been eating more veggies I have more energy in the day.” 

Eventually, you can start to ask them about how they’re feeling, and whether or not they notice changes from eating certain foods (curiosity over criticism). It’s all about getting them to understand and listen to their bodies. This is critical to teaching your teen self care because it’s building a skill that they can use through their lifetime. They won’t need you to tell them when they need to get more sleep or eat healthier foods—they’ll be able to know for themselves. 

And one more note…You’re not lecturing or shaming your teen into looking a certain way or being a certain size—it’s about feeling healthy in their brain and body. 

This goes for sleep patterns too! And if you’re looking for more information on why teens need more sleep on average, check out my article on circadian rhythms in the teen brain. 

Remember: No Lectures Necessary! 

As much as we want to simply tell our teens what’s right for them, lecturing will never work. All it does is teach your teen to shut you out and stop listening. Teenagers don’t need to be lectured—they need to be equipped and empowered. 

That’s how you teach a teenager self care—you take a look in the mirror, make sure you’re modeling healthy behavior, and then let your teen in on the process. It’s all about leading them in the right direction, and encouraging them along the way. No lectures necessary! 

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