Being a teenager has always been challenging and it sure isn’t getting any easier.

Today’s Generation Z has had to deal with school, expectations, friendships, sexuality and their changing bodies, just like all who went before them.

But they’ve also had to negotiate the stresses and unknowns of the COVID pandemic.

And they’ve done it while being bombarded with concerns about climate change, economic pressures and the war in Ukraine.

First and foremost, keeping open lines of communication between parents and teenagers is paramount to detect any mental or emotional concerns.

Beyond that, there are a number of basic principles you can follow to improve your chances of having healthier and happier teenagers.

Eat better

Teenagers need a well balanced diet as much as anyone.

And yet they are the targets for the reams of junk food advertisements that litter the airwaves.

20 percent of what we eat is used by our brains for energy – do you really want that to be a greasy burger and fries?

Focus on eating more fruits and vegetables, drink more water and reduce your intake of sugar, saturated fats and processed foods.

Exercise more

Nine out of 10 teenagers don’t do enough exercise so get on your bike!

Besides helping you keep in shape, exercise is a fantastic stress reliever and can ward off the evils of depression and anxiety.

Try setting some weekly goals and stick to them.

It is recommended teenagers do at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day – although it doesn’t have to all be in one session.

Bike riding, swimming and dancing all count along with more traditional sports like football, basketball and netball, making happier teenagers.

Get enough sleep

Teenagers love to stay up late.

Fortunately, they rarely enjoy rising early but sometimes that can’t be avoided.

The point is, teenagers need between 8-10 hours of sleep every night.

It’s another way to protect them from anxiety and depression and it helps support growing bodies and minds.

Reducing or eliminating stimulants just before bed like sugary foods, computer games and other electronic equipment goes a long way towards encouraging sleep.

Limit screen time

Plenty of teenagers seem like they are glued to their phones or other devices.

Near bed time, this is counter-productive to getting enough sleep.

During the day, too much screen time may become addictive and can also trigger problems such as anti-social behaviour, attention problems, anxiety and depression.

It may also have adverse effects on weight and diet.

Online bullying and self-esteem issues are also potential dangers.

In Australia, the current recommendation is for no more than two hours per day of screen time, not including homework.

Manage stress

Teaching teenagers from an early age how to manage stress can help set them up for the rest of their lives.

It may be sleep, some quiet time alone, reading a book or listening to music. It may be Pilates, yoga or some other form of meditation.

Or they may prefer to kill two birds with one stone and go on that half hour run.

Other ideas they may want to consider include:

Being creative – Painting, drawing, dancing or keeping a journal

Playing with your pet – The unconditional love of a pet can be a wonderful distraction from the day’s stresses

Going for a walk – A stroll around the block in the fresh air is an excellent circuit breaker

Talking with your friends – Share your thoughts and problems with friends, preferably in person but online is better than not at all.

Find your passion

Call it a pastime, a hobby, whatever you like.

We all need a passion in life. And it’s important to have something to look forward to every week.

Whether it’s mountain bike riding, gymnastics or playing guitar, plan some time every week to do what you love.

Book an appointment

According to the Black Dog Institute, about 75 percent of mental health problems emerge before the age of 25 and tragically suicide remains the leading cause of death for young people in Australia aged 5 – 17.

That’s why it is so important to keep talking with your teenagers, along with their loved ones, to recognise warning signs like self-harming, aggressive behaviour, moodiness and feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or loneliness.

It’s also important to have the right GP in your corner.

The best doctors are great listeners who you can confide in.

They are empathetic, friendly, supportive and understand their challenges and know what makes healthy and happier teenagers.

There is no better time for teenagers to get set up with the right doctor.

Book an appointment today at the Seaford Road Day and Night Clinic or the Seaford Meadows Day and Night Clinic.

For emergency mental health support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit Beyond Blue.