Many leading researchers and experts in child psychology and healthcare believe there’s never been a more challenging time to raise healthy kids than now. Between the abundance of unhealthy food options, the magnetism of mind-numbing screen-based entertainment, and an increase in anxiety-inducing triggers, raising a healthy child in the 21st century may feel downright impossible. But with the right approach, you can put your child on a better path.
Big Challenges in Health Childhood Development
There’s no universal playbook on how to raise a child, but if there were, you’d find these four challenges prominently featured throughout:
- Lack of proper nutrition. Processed junk food and sugary drinks have replaced fresh meals and water as the go-to options for busy parents who lack the time to prepare balanced meals. Unfortunately, this lack of proper nutrition often leads to a host of health issues.
In addition to the obvious – like weight gain and obesity – insufficient diets are linked to a variety of problems with academic learning and psychosocial behavior. Malnutrition leads to developmental issues in the brain, which have a direct impact on a child’s ability to process their emotions and/or respond to stress.
- Lack of physical activity. With the increase in digital entertainment options, most children don’t get nearly enough physical activity. The WHO states 80 percent of children between the ages of 11 and 17 aren’t physically active enough. Girls are even less likely than boys to get exercise (perhaps due to a lack of access to programs).
- Limited access to healthcare. Research suggests that 20.3 million children in the United States (or roughly one out of three kids) face significant barriers to accessing essential health care. This issue is multilayered, but has to do with insurance, locations of practices, and even a lack of information and education.
- Excessive screen time. A report released by Common Sense Media shows that children between the ages of 8 and 12 use screens for entertainment purposes for an average of 4 hours and 44 minutes per day. It’s even worse for those in the 13 to 18 age bracket: 7 hours and 22 minutes per day.
There are plenty of other issues at play – including a host of mental health issues like anxiety and depression – but these are four challenges that we as parents have significant control over.
Course Correcting and Raising Healthy Kids
Raising healthy children is a full-time job. It’s not something you can gloss over or put on autopilot. It requires focus, repetition, and constant attention to detail (even when other parents make you feel small for the choices you make). Understanding that every situation is different, here are some expert-recommended ways to keep a child on a path of healthy maturation and development:
- Aim for Balanced Nutrition With Weekly Meal Prepping
Children need a balanced diet that consists of adequate protein, calcium, vitamin D, and iron (among other nutrients). Proper hydration is also very important – particularly as their rate of physical activity increases.
Most parents opt for fast food, frozen meals, or processed options because of their convenience. (It’s a lot easier to pop a frozen pizza in the oven than it is to prepare an entire meal after work.) But with the right strategy, your family can eat healthy without spending hours in the kitchen each day. It’s called meal prepping. You can find some inspiring ideas here.
- Schedule Regular Healthcare Visits in Advance
While there are certainly larger issues at play – including a broken healthcare system that makes getting quality care expensive for low-income and middle-class families – there’s another issue that families face: lack of planning.
If you want to prioritize your child’s healthcare, plan their checkups and visits well in advance. This gives you time to put the appointment on your calendar and schedule around it.
In addition to regular visits to the primary care doctor, schedule dental cleanings for your kids. Research shows that 42 percent of kids ages 2 to 11 suffer from tooth decay (which makes them 300 percent more likely to miss school).
- Place Limits on Screen Time (But Let Kids Decide)
Most kids clearly need to have limits on their screen time (otherwise they’d never surface for air). However, children also need to learn how to manage their time. The question is, how do you do both?
The best approach is to set parental timers on each device your child owns. For example, you might allow your child 60 minutes of tablet time per day. Once these 60 minutes pass, the device automatically powers down. The beauty of using this feature is that the child gets to decide when to use their device. They can choose to use 30 minutes in the morning and another 30 minutes in the afternoon. They can save all 60 minutes until the end of the day. It’s their call! They get to self-regulate and you don’t have to micromanage.
Set Your Child Up for Success
As a parent, you’re just trying to do the best you can with the resources you have. But hopefully the tips highlighted above will give you some practical tools you can use to reorient your child’s lifestyle in a positive manner. Whether you have toddlers or teenagers, a more intentional approach will serve you well.