Want to support your 12th-grader's physical health? Here are some tips that experts suggest.
School districts vary widely in the amount of physical education they offer in the curriculum, and by 12th grade, physical fitness is usually no longer a daily part of the school curriculum. According to a report on physical activity among young people from the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, even the best physical education curriculum fails to provide the necessary 60 minutes of recommended activity each day. It’s especially important for parents to step in and fill the void by encouraging physical activity after school and on weekends. One of the most effective ways for parents to do this is by modeling good behavior.
Walks and bike rides
Organize family activities that incorporate physical activity, such as walks and bike rides. Outdoor chores such as raking leaves or shoveling snow are a good way to squeeze exercise into a busy weekend. Finding a physical activity that you and your child can do together, such as swimming at the local YMCA, is a great way for both of you to exercise and for you to spend quality time together.
Research has shown that even relatively small variations in the amount of physical activity young people get can make the difference between a healthy weight and being overweight. If your child is not physically active enough, encourage him to start by changing their behavior gradually. Setting aside some time each day for jumping rope, kicking a ball in the yard or skateboarding around the block will soon make a difference that they will be able to see and feel.
Encourage your teenager to become active in organized sports, which can be an excellent way of get the recommended amounts of physical activity and establishing regular exercise habits that can become the basis of lifelong fitness.
Make activity appealing
If you are concerned that your teenager is not active enough, try to find ways to make physical activity appeal more to them. If they are shy about exercising with others, for example, home exercise videos could help them be more active. Your teen is now old enough that they can make their own choices about the kinds of physical activity they want to do. Help them understand that however they choose to be active is fine, as long as they are physically active on a regular basis.
Help your child to enjoy exercise and think of it as something fun that will make them feel good about herself or himself. The behavior you model as a parent is crucial. If your teen sees that you prioritize exercise and enjoy it, the chances increase that they will be inspired to follow your example.
Walk or bike to school
One reason that children are less physically active than in previous generations is that fewer and fewer children walk or bike to school. If doing so is a safe alternative for your child, encourage the practice. Encourage your teen to walk whenever it is an option and set a good example, for example by taking the stairs rather than an elevator or by walking on escalators rather than just standing.
The link between physical activity and improved academic performance is becoming increasingly clear. According to a report from the Institute of Medicine, children perform cognitive tasks better after participating in a session of physical activity. The report also notes that “frequent bouts of physical activity throughout the day yield short-term benefits for mental and cognitive health.” Encourage your teenager to play actively or exercise before doing their homework or studying and to take short active breaks from sedentary activities. For example, if they are getting bogged down on some especially homework difficult problems, suggest that your child clear their head by walking the dog or kicking a ball outside.
If your teenager is looking to supplement their income with a part-time job, encourage them to explore options that require physical activity, such as making deliveries, babysitting, or helping to coach a sports team.
Limit TV and computer use
Limit the amount of time your teenager is sitting in front of the television or computer monitor and set a good example with your own behavior. If you’re watching TV as a family, for example, have everyone get up and move around during commercial breaks.
Too much exercise
In addition to being aware of whether your teenager is not getting enough exercise, pay attention if they appear to be exercising too much. It is around this time that many adolescents become susceptible to pressure to lose weight and develop a certain body type through exercise and diet. Children who participate in certain sports or activities that emphasize weight targets or body shape, such as wrestling or ballet, can be especially vulnerable to this kind of pressure.
Help your teenager to understand the various changes that are transforming their body and assure them that these are normal aspects of growing up. Encourage your child to come to you with questions about health and hygiene or to seek advice from your family physician or other trusted sources.
Make sure that your adolescent understands the importance of personal hygiene and that they have all the necessary supplies to ensure that they are well-groomed and clean. Help them shop for razors, deodorant, and other necessary toiletries.
Talk to your child about good menstrual hygiene and make sure she has all the supplies she needs. Explain the difference between sanitary pads and tampons, and make sure she understands that menstruation does not need to limit her ability to be physically active.
Face and hair
Your teenager’s face and hair will be much oilier than they were when they were younger. They may benefit from trying facial cleansers or shampoos specifically targeted to adolescents.
If your child wears makeup, teach them to remove it and to wash their face thoroughly before they go to sleep at night.
Body image issues increase sharply during adolescence. Use your child’s physical development to guide you through what subjects you should be addressing. If acne is a persistent problem, for example, consider seeking advice from a dermatologist.
Make sure that the information you’re passing on to your child is current and medically sound. Some of the hygiene advice you may have been given when you were younger, about things such as shaving or menstrual hygiene, may no longer apply.
Regular dentist checkups
Your child should see a dentist for regular checkups. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends check-ups every six months, but also advises consulting with your child’s dentist about how often to visit based on your child’s oral health. Ask the dentist about measures such as dental sealants, which protect against cavities and decay.
Tooth decay and cavities are entirely preventable yet remain widespread and affect children in the United States more than any other chronic infectious disease. Untreated dental problems can become infected, causing pain and problems with eating, speaking, and learning.
Help your teen understand the importance of good oral hygiene, including brushing at least twice a day and flossing once a day.
If your teen plays a contact sport, they should wear a mouth guard to protect against dental injury and concussion.
If a child’s tooth becomes dislodged due to an injury, place the tooth in a container of milk and seek dental advice as soon as possible. Permanent teeth can sometimes be re-implanted successfully.
Consult your teen’s dentist about the growth of their wisdom teeth and whether they will need to be extracted.
Your child may try to make up for an inadequate sleeping schedule by bingeing on sleep during the weekends. Encourage them to sleep no later than 10 a.m. on the weekends. This will help them avoid the drowsiness caused by an uneven sleep schedule and ensure that they are well-rested for school on Monday.
Since most teens are not getting the recommended amount of sleep each evening, a 20-minute power nap could be helpful. However, experts caution that adolescents should not be sleeping after 4 p.m. because it will disrupt a night of restful sleep. If your child chooses to nap, have them set an alarm to ensure that they wake up after 20 minutes.
With age comes greater responsibility. Now that your teen is almost finished with high school, they will most likely be setting their own bedtime. Encourage them to use the 30 minutes before falling asleep to unwind and relax. Experts recommend that teens use the time to read a book or write in a journal, instead of doing more arousing activities, like playing video games, watching television, and texting with friends.
Help your child maintain a regular study schedule so that they aren't cramming the night before a major test. Researchers have found that the costs of losing sleep far outweigh the academic benefits of staying up late to study. Studying consistently for a few hours every night will ensure that they can get plenty of rest prior to an important exam and retain the information that they have learned.
Does your teen have a lot of homework? Encourage them to complete the homework that requires a computer earlier in the evening. This way your teen avoids exposure to the stimulating lights of the computer or television during the time right before bed.
Check your child’s bedroom to see if it is a dark, calm, and quiet environment. When you turn off the lights, there should be no illumination. Remove the television, computer, and other electronics from their room since they emit a blue light that disrupts their sleep cycle.
Lead by example
It is important to lead by example. Establish an electronic curfew at least 30 minutes prior to your teen going to bed for the entire family. Model the behavior that you want to see in your teen by turning off your own cell phone and other technological devices. If your child owns a cell phone, encourage them to charge it in a different room from where they sleep. This way your teen will not be distracted by tweets and texts.
Caffeine and nicotine
Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants and prevent a healthy night of sleep, especially if consumed after 4 p.m. If your teen is having trouble sleeping, consider having them cut out caffeinated soda, energy drinks, chocolate, coffee, and nicotine for at least two weeks.
Now that your teen is driving, it is important to talk to them about the negative consequences of driving while sleep deprived. Sleepiness is a leading cause of motor vehicle accidents among teenagers. Research shows that teen drivers who sleep less than eight hours a night are one-third more likely to get into an accident compared with teen drivers who have slept for eight or more hours per night.
To learn more, check out our 12th grade physical health guide page.
Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Dr. Natasha Burgert, Pediatrician, Pediatric Associates and Dr. Jayne Greenberg, District Director, Miami-Dade County Public Schools.