Strategies to promote healthy, happy and resilient teenagers

Simon Denny will be presenting at the next CPC seminar

Thriving teenagers and how parents can support them

The majority of teenagers in New Zealand are happy and healthy, and rates of pregnancy, substance abuse and drink-driving among our teens are plummeting.

This was some of the myth-busting research Associate Professor Simon Denny presented during his Combing Parenting and a Career seminar, “Thriving teenagers and how parents can support them”. Simon is Associate Professor in the School of Medicine and is also a paediatrician at the Centre for Youth Health in South Auckland.

In his hour-long seminar, which covered a range of health issues facing teenagers, he used data from Youth2000 to show that many of the risk behaviours are decreasing, including cigarette use, marijuana use, violence and binge-alcohol use. Simon suggested that the dive in numbers could be attributed to a raft of factors such as improved parenting skills, a peace-time environment, and improved access via the internet to information, for both parents and teens. It could also be linked to social media, which has dramatically altered the way teenagers socialise: they don’t have to leave the house to spend time with their friends, while being under the influence on camera could have devastating viral consequences.

While these statistics are positive, research also shows increasing levels of inactivity, obesity and poor nutrition among teenagers. Youth suicide, depression and poverty rates also remain “unacceptably high” according to Simon’s findings.

The combination of social, psychological and biological development of teenagers means it is a period of inevitable flux. However, Simon offered attendees a range of strategies to help them, and their teens, survive the teenage years. These include spending time together, having boundaries and rules, and being a role model.

Perhaps surprisingly, Simon points to family meal time as a practical way to help enhance and sustain wellbeing among teens. A recent local feasibility study by the University’s Dr Jennifer Utter, gave families from diverse socio-economic backgrounds nutritious food kits with instructions for the teenagers to cook dinner over a four-week period. The families were asked to eat together and turn off all devices. The results, said Simon, were wonderful. The young chefs felt a sense of achievement in cooking wholesome food for their families, and channels of communication and engagement opened up and flourished. This seems to be a positive strategy that families could adopt towards supporting their growing teenagers.

View the slides from Simon’s presentation below

The University’s CPC seminars are a collaboration between the Equity Office – Te Ara Tautika, HR and the TEU. The seminars provide the opportunity to hear from leading researchers about topics relevant to our staff combining parenting and a career.

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