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6 ways to support the health of your teenage boy.

June 13-19 is Men’s Health Week. The focus of men’s health week 2022 is creating healthy environments for boys and men.

To help open up conversations about men's health, this week we'll be sharing a series of posts about health concerns and possible treatment options for boys and men at each life stage. For teenage boys, the onset of puberty results in several physical, emotional and mental changes. Families and friends play an important part in supporting the health and well-being of young men during this stage of their life.

Why is my teenage boy moody?

The teenage brain develops considerably from puberty through to the age of 20-23. The front part of the brain – the prefrontal cortex - that help us make decisions, solve problems and regulate actions and behaviours is the last part of the brain to fully develop. Because of this, teenage boys (and young adult men) can be impulsive and reactive, don’t seem to think things through, and can even be aggressive. Teenage boys can quickly switch from being energetic and engaged to irritable and withdrawn.

Whilst mood changes are normal, it is important to keep a check on the duration of moods, the severity, and the impact moodiness is having on everyday life, to ensure there isn’t a more serious mental health issue that needs addressing.

To help support teenage boys through mood swings that are associated with growth and development, remain calm during outbursts, and when given the opportunity, take time to actively listen. Understand that mood swings at this age are generally only temporary and most likely occur as a result of the physiological changes that the teenage boy is experiencing.

What can I do about my teenage son’s acne?

During the teenage years, hormones signal the body to overproduce sebum. Sebum is an oily, waxy substance that protects the skin. When the excess sebum is combined with dead skin cells and bacteria, it can result in acne. Boys are more susceptible to acne vulgaris and it can affect the face, back, neck and chest.

To help reduce the severity of teenage acne, boys should be encouraged to wash their face morning and night with a teenage-friendly face wash (specific teenage skin care products are generally lower in oil, and made from gentle ingredients). This can help remove dead skin cells, bacteria, and excess oil.

Taking a daily probiotic may also reduce the severity of acne. Probiotics can prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, can reduce the number of bacteria in hair follicles, and may calm the inflammatory response that often flairs acne and other skin conditions up.

What growth and changes occur in teenage boys?

During puberty, boys experience a significant amount of physical growth. The scrotum, testes, and penis grow, as do their hands, legs, and arms. Sometimes boys’ hands, legs, arms and feet will grow faster than the rest of their body, which can result in clumsiness. From the age of 12 up to 20, boys can experience a height increase of anywhere between 10 to 30cm. They also experience deepening of the voice, growth of pubic and facial hair, and an increase in sweating. When going through changes, boys can feel self-conscious, insecure, anxious and withdrawn.

Families can support young men through this stage by having conversations before these changes occur. Open discussions can help boys understand what changes to expect and why they happen. Parents and caregivers should also explain to their sons that these changes happen to boys at different rates.

What should my teenage son be eating?

An increase in appetite coincides with the growth and changes of teenage boys. Between the ages of 14 and 17, boys’ calorie needs tend to increase significantly to help fuel the physical changes. Good nutrition will help to support bone growth, hormonal changes, and organ and tissue development.

Unfortunately, this also comes at a time when teenage boys are starting to exercise independence and decision making and so, without the correct guidance boys can slip into poor eating and nutrition habits.

Parents and caregivers need to be positive role models by practising healthy eating habits. Encourage your son to include whole grains, a variety of fruit and vegetables, and protein-rich foods. Having a variety of nutritious meals and snacks that are easy to grab and portable will encourage teenage boys to make nutritious choices.

Zinc and vitamin A can support teenagers through this phase of significant growth. Zinc can support the reproductive, immune, endocrine, and neurological systems. Vitamin A can support sexual development and strengthen the immune system.

Protein is important for energy, muscle growth, and repair. The best way for teenage boys to get their recommended dietary intake (RDI) of protein is through food sources such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy foods. Protein powders are an option for convenience and supplementing. When choosing a protein powder for teenage boys, look for one that is made with either grass-fed whey; or pea and rice protein (not soy). A good protein powder should not contain sugars, artificial sweeteners, fillers or oils.

Why is my teenage son staying up later?

During puberty, many boys will change their sleep patterns. Not wanting to go to bed at either 8 or 9 pm can look like defiance, but it is actually a change in their circadian rhythm. The shift is called ‘sleep phase delay’ and usually means boys won’t start to feel tired until 10 or 11 pm.

However, they still need an average of nine hours of sleep at night, so encouraging good sleep patterns is important. Lack of sleep can exacerbate mood swings, impact their ability to concentrate, increase hyperactivity or decrease energy levels.

To help teen boys get the appropriate amount of sleep, parents should still have set routines for their teenage sons. Encourage wind-down activities from 8 or 9 pm, reduce their screen time before bed (and restrict the use of phones and screens in bedrooms) and support a balance of sport/physical activity and schoolwork.

Is anxiety common in teenage boys?

Anxiety is common for 9-18 year-olds and is often exacerbated by the emotional, physical, and social changes that pre-teens or teenagers are experiencing.

Feeling anxious is a normal part of life and in some situations can be positive. Feeling anxious can make teenagers think about situations they are in and sense when something doesn’t feel ‘right’ or ‘safe’.

Mild anxiety can be managed with sensible sleep patterns, regular exercise, and a healthy diet. Some over-the-counter herbs and supplements can help to reduce stress and/or improve sleep.

However, medical support should be considered if the teenager is constantly feeling on edge, nervous or worrisome; feels anxious for extended periods (weeks or months), or is unable to go to school, social events, and do other everyday activities.

The teenage years can be challenging for both the boy and the parents or caregivers, but creating a healthy environment can help shape young men into thriving adults.

Further reading: Better Health Channel


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