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Family Dinner

Nourishing Your Teen Goes Beyond Just Putting Plenty of Food on the Table

September 19, 2018     By Father Steven Boes, President and National Executive Director, Boys Town

At The Table, Father Boes, Parenting Skills, Social Skills, Today's Family

Every teen is different.

They have different looks and likes. Different personalities and peeves. Different moods and modes.

But every teen has one thing in common – they're always hungry!

Teens eat a lot, and it's hard to keep enough food in the house when you've got one under your roof. We know that from personal experience because we have six to eight teens (boys or girls) living in the 60 Family Homes that comprise the Village of Boys Town, Nebraska. It's in those family-style residences that our youth receive the care and guidance they need from trained couples called Family-Teachers®. Other kids receive the same high-quality care in Family Homes at several of our affiliate sites around the country.

For just one of our Family Homes, the monthly food bill is about $1,400! That's a lot of milk, bread, eggs, meat, vegetables, fruit and other groceries.

In our more than 100 years of helping children, we've learned a few other things teens are hungry for; they also crave physical activity, social interactions, spiritual connections and intellectual challenges.

These are critical factors in how kids grow and develop, and we try to give all of the teens in our care this important "nourishment" during the time they're with us. As parents, you do the same with the teens in your home.

But just as there is healthy food that's good for you and junk food that's bad for you, there is a "healthy" way and a "junk" way to help a teen meet these needs.

For physical activity, the healthy approach involves providing kids with opportunities to experience competition (both in team or individual activities), accomplish goals as part of a team and build a healthy body. The junk approach would be letting kids adopt the bad habits and rude behaviors of some of the athletes they see in the media, or be pulled into the "win-at-all-costs" (steroid use, cheating) culture that plagues professional sports and even some college sports. 

In relationships, the junk food is the pressure to have sex or to treat sex as the end-all goal of having a relationship with someone. The healthy side of that area of growth is learning how to develop real, sincere friendships in which people respect and trust each other, have a positive influence on each other and don't try to use each other.

The junk side of developing a spiritual connection is being attracted to a lifestyle that is self-centered, where there are no rules, no restrictions and no self-discipline, and where there's a belief that believing in God is old-fashioned and meaningless. The healthy side of that is passionately believing in something bigger than yourself, drawing closer to God and making sacrifices to benefit others and the community. Learning responsibility and how to contribute to the greater good is a big part of growing as a productive, well-rounded person.

Social media and excessive screen time can be the junk foods of the intellectual challenges teens want. Getting mired in a "swamp" of misinformation, where anyone can say anything without regard to accuracy or truthfulness or how much it may hurt someone, chips away at a teen's ability to separate real, credible knowledge from the fluff that sometimes passes as knowledge. (At Boys Town, our boys and girls aren't allowed to have cell phones and must follow rules when using a computer, including time limits; this helps them stay focused on important things like building healthy relationships, achieving good grades, improving their behaviors and just being kids.) The healthy intellectual alternative is working hard in school, learning how to separate facts from lies, sharing opinions in civil conversations with others and staying well-informed about what's happening in the world. This is where parents can play a big role by teaching and modeling the life skills and life lessons they've learned for their teens.

As I said earlier, teens are always hungry. As a parent, you are responsible for making sure they have enough food and a healthy diet. But just as importantly, as we do at Boys Town, you must nourish your teen in body, mind and spirit.   

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