Are you struggling with your teen?

Why do our teenagers get so moody? Why are they so lazy? Why do otherwise smart kids do such stupid things?

If you’re a parent of a teenager, you have probably asked yourself one of these questions at some point. But there’s a biological reason for the way teenagers act. Their growing brains and bodies cause them to approach things like self-organisation, empathy and risk-taking in ways which can cause their parents more than a few headaches.

Neuroscientist Frances E Jensen explains how “teenage brains have more synaptic connections than adult ones, which makes them highly impressionable.” She helps parents understand the biological basis for their teenagers’ distractibility and decision-making, advising parents on how to support and stay close to their teenagers through the difficult years in her book “The Teenage Brain”.

So how can we support our teenagers in healthy development?

Those developing brains and bodies need different nutrition than adults. Nutrition Consultant and Fidelity Life team member Jenna Osborne feels nutrition is of huge importance during the teenage years, and is often one of the things that go wrong as teens tend to opt for a diet of junk food, or the same foods on high repetition – meaning they don’t get much diversity in their diets.

She says: “Did you know that Recommended Daily Intakes of key vitamins and minerals are different for teenagers? That’s because their growing brains and bodies need more than their adult equivalents.

They require key nutrients such as calcium and iron in higher amounts, and meeting the RDIs (Recommended Daily Intakes) for these nutrients can be difficult at the best of times - let alone on a diet based around cheap convenience foods.

For example, a teenage boy needs 1,300mg of calcium per day (about 1.25 litres of whole milk) versus his fully-grown adult counterpart at 1,000mg, and a teenage girl needs 15mg of iron per day (about 800g of lean steak), versus just 8mg as an adult woman. That’s a lot of milk and steak! It’s likely that if your teen isn’t actively thinking about eating foods rich in these nutrients, they’re probably falling far short of their needs.