Two interesting results of scientific research recently attracted my attention. The first was that teens suffer from a chronic lack of sleep and that that sleep deprivation amongst other negative side effects, leads teens to make poor dietary choices. Sleep deprived teens eat more food that is good for them and eat less healthy food.
The second is that most teens have an unhealthy eating pattern. In a study, researchers found that 74% of teens don’t have a healthy eating pattern and that only half are physically active five or more days a week.
The findings then seem to confirm what most of us know already: that US teens in general have a less than healthy eating pattern and in general, are not as physically active as they should be.
How healthy is your youth ministry for teens?
My first reaction was this: how healthy is our youth ministry for teens? Does our youth ministry promote and support a healthy, active lifestyle or do we actually support an unhealthy, passive one?
Let’s discuss three important aspects of a healthy youth ministry:
1. Are your teens getting enough sleep?
Last week we had two 18-year old guys staying with us for a couple of days and it struck me how much they slept. They’d easily sleep in till 11 am! We may think that teens have loads of energy, but let’s not forget that they really need more sleep because of all the processes that their bodies and minds are going through. Is our youth ministry helping teens get enough sleep or are we one of the factors that contribute to teens being sleep deprived?
Here are a few things you could do to help your teens get enough sleep:
- Stop your youth ministry events on the agreed time and don’t run late
- Make sure you have volunteers to help clean up so teens can go home on time
- During retreats and camps, enforce a ‘clock’ to make sure they get enough sleep. They may protest it, but stick to it. In the end, they’ll accept it if you explain the why of this rule.
- Don’t overdo it with the lock ins – they may be fun, but they can also be too much for teens
2. Are you helping teens be physically active?
No, your youth ministry doesn’t have to turn into a Biggest Loser episode with constant exhausting fitness stuff, but it’s not a bad idea to offer some physically active games. In my opinion, it’s a win-win because oftentimes the guys need to let off some steam anyway before they can concentrate.
In our camps, sports were a big part of our program. Not every teen enjoyed that, true, but a lot of them did. For those who really couldn’t participate, we offered alternative activities.
Also, when you spend time with teens building relationships with them, why not be active at the same time: throw a ball around, play some soccer or basketball?
3. Do you serve healthy food?
If we want our teens to make healthy dietary choices, we need to set a healthy example. Most youth ministries run on soda and pizza, but how about we make our food a little healthier?
One of the things we really paid attention to in our retreats and camps, were the meals. Every single meal offered loads of different vegetables and we always has baskets with fruit they could eat whenever they wanted. During meals, we only offered water, tea or milk to drink. Also, we served a limited amount of sugary snacks during the day. Parents actually complimented us on that!
Show teens that healthy food can taste good. Experiment with healthier snacks, like rice crackers, veggies in a yoghurt dip, or wraps instead of pizza.
(and by the way: healthy food is better for you as well!)
Make the change towards a healthy youth ministry
If your youth ministry is unhealthy, start making some changes. Your teens won’t like it at first and even your volunteers may grumble. But your healthy example could help teens make better choices that will positively impact the rest of their lives. As with everything, lead by example.
One other thing: unhealthy dietary choices also result from other reasons, like limited funds. Fruit and vegetables are expensive en for parents on a limited budget, these can be too expensive. If your ministry serves low income teens, all the more reasons to offer the vitamins they’re not likely to get at home.
On a scale from 1 to 10, how healthy is your youth ministry for your teens and in which areas do you need to improve?