Adolescent Development: Why What They Eat is so Important.

AAdolescent Development: Why What They Eat is so Important.

Thriving during the teenage years depends on so many things and a growing body of research is demonstrating the critical role of diet in adolescent development. 

A number of studies have now found a definite link between diet and mental and emotional well-being. If an adolescent in your life needs another very convincing reason to eat healthy, regular meals – here are two of them…

Diet and Cognitive Function

An Australian study, published in Journal of Child Psychology and Psychology, has found an association between dietary patterns at 14 years of age and cognitive function (memory, learning) three years later at age 17. 

The Study. What They Did.

602 participants, all 14 years old, had their dietary patterns identified as either being ‘healthy’ (high fruit and vegetables) or ‘Western’ (high intakes of take-away food, red and processed meat, soft drink, fried and refined food).

What They Found.

When tested on various cognitive tasks three years later, adolescents who followed a more Western diet were found to have diminished cognitive performance. Specifically, they showed longer reaction times and higher errors in a delayed recall task.

High intake of crisps, red meat and fried potato also had a negative impact on cognitive function.

In contrast, a higher intake of fruit and leafy green vegetables was found to be positively associated with improved cognitive performance.

Diet, Depression and Anxiety

Separate research out of Emory University has found that a high fructose diet can also compromise adolescent development by:

  • increasing symptoms of anxiety;
  • increasing symptoms of depression;
  • changing the way the brain responds to stress; and
  • causing long-term changes in metabolism and behaviour.

Fructose is a sugar found naturally in fruits and vegetables but it’s also added to many processed foods and drinks. 

Adolescence is a critical time for brain development so an adolescent brain is particularly vulnerable.

At this stage research has only been conducted in rats, chosen because they have a similar genetic and biological makeup to humans. Results are often replicated in human trials.

 The Study. What They Did.

As part of the research conducted at  Emory University, adolescent and adult rats were given either a standard or a high fructose diet.

What They Found.

After 10 weeks the adolescent rats had a different stress hormone response to a stressful situation. The adult rats who were given the high fructose diet did not show this effect.

In the adolescent rats, a genetic pathway in the brain that helps regulate the brain’s response to stress was also changed.

 

And finally …

Further research is humans is necessary, but there is a strong sign that a high fructose diet throughout adolescence worsens the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and changes the way the body and the brain respond to stress.

The importance of a healthy diet to physical well-being has long been established but we are learning more and more about it affects mental health. Eating well during adolescence can be the edge they need to thrive. 

 

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During adolescence, our teens are more likely to pay attention to the positives of a situation over the negatives. This can be a great thing. The courage that comes from this will help them try new things, explore their independence, and learn the things they need to learn to be happy, healthy adults. But it can also land them in bucketloads of trouble. 

Here’s the thing. Our teens don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to go behind our backs, but they also don’t want to be controlled by us, or have any sense that we might be stifling their way towards independence. The cold truth of it all is that if they want something badly enough, and if they feel as though we are intruding or that we are making arbitrary decisions just because we can, or that we don’t get how important something is to them, they have the will, the smarts and the means to do it with or without or approval. 

So what do we do? Of course we don’t want to say ‘yes’ to everything, so our job becomes one of influence over control. To keep them as safe as we can, rather than saying ‘no’ (which they might ignore anyway) we want to engage their prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) so they can be more considered in their decision making. 

Our teens are very capable of making good decisions, but because the rational, logical, thinking prefrontal cortex won’t be fully online until their 20s (closer to 30 in boys), we need to wake it up and bring it to the decision party whenever we can. 

Do this by first softening the landing:
‘I can see how important this is for you. You really want to be with your friends. I absolutely get that.’
Then, gently bring that thinking brain to the table:
‘It sounds as though there’s so much to love in this for you. I don’t want to get in your way but I need to know you’ve thought about the risks and planned for them. What are some things that could go wrong?’
Then, we really make the prefrontal cortex kick up a gear by engaging its problem solving capacities:
‘What’s the plan if that happens.’
Remember, during adolescence we switch from managers to consultants. Assume a leadership presence, but in a way that is warm, loving, and collaborative.♥️
Big feelings and big behaviour are a call for us to come closer. They won’t always feel like that, but they are. Not ‘closer’ in an intrusive ‘I need you to stop this’ way, but closer in a ‘I’ve got you, I can handle all of you’ kind of way - no judgement, no need for you to be different - I’m just going to make space for this feeling to find its way through. 

Our kids and teens are no different to us. When we have feelings that fill us to overloaded, the last thing we need is someone telling us that it’s not the way to behave, or to calm down, or that we’re unbearable when we’re like this. Nup. What we need, and what they need, is a safe place to find our out breath, to let the energy connected to that feeling move through us and out of us so we can rest. 
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But how? First, don’t take big feelings personally. They aren’t a reflection on you, your parenting, or your child. Big feelings have wisdom contained in them about what’s needed more, or less, or what feels intolerable right now. Sometimes it might be as basic as a sleep or food. Maybe more power, influence, independence, or connection with you. Maybe there’s too much stress and it’s hitting their ceiling and ricocheting off their edges. Like all wisdom, it doesn’t always find a gentle way through. That’s okay, that will come. Our kids can’t learn to manage big feelings, or respect the wisdom embodied in those big feelings if they don’t have experience with big feelings. 
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We also need to make sure we are responding to them in the moment, not a fear or an inherited ‘should’ of our own. These are the messages we swallowed whole at some point - ‘happy kids should never get sad or angry’, ‘kids should always behave,’ ‘I should be able to protect my kids from feeling bad,’ ‘big feelings are bad feelings’, ‘bad behaviour means bad kids, which means bad parents.’ All these shoulds are feisty show ponies that assume more ‘rightness’ than they deserve. They are usually historic, and when we really examine them, they’re also irrelevant.
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Finally, try not to let the symptoms of big feelings disrupt the connection. Then, when calm comes, we will have the influence we need for the conversations that matter.
"Be patient. We don’t know what we want to do or who we want to be. That feels really bad sometimes. Just keep reminding us that it’s okay that we don’t have it all figured out yet, and maybe remind yourself sometimes too."
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 #parentingteens #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #neuronurtured #braindevelopment #adolescence  #neurodevelopment #parentingteens
Would you be more likely to take advice from someone who listened to you first, or someone who insisted they knew best and worked hard to convince you? Our teens are just like us. If we want them to consider our advice and be open to our influence, making sure they feel heard is so important. Being right doesn't count for much at all if we aren't being heard.
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Hear what they think, what they want, why they think they're right, and why it’s important to them. Sometimes we'll want to change our mind, and sometimes we'll want to stand firm. When they feel fully heard, it’s more likely that they’ll be able to trust that our decisions or advice are given fully informed and with all of their needs considered. And we all need that.
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 #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #adolescence 
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"We’re pretty sure that when you say no to something it’s because you don’t understand why it’s so important to us. Of course you’ll need to say 'no' sometimes, and if you do, let us know that you understand the importance of whatever it is we’re asking for. It will make your ‘no’ much easier to accept. We need to know that you get it. Listen to what we have to say and ask questions to understand, not to prove us wrong. We’re not trying to control you or manipulate you. Some things might not seem important to you but if we’re asking, they’re really important to us.❤️" 
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#neurodevelopment #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting

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