How teens can build healthy habits: teen advisers weigh in

Being a teenager isn’t easy. There’s academic pressure, hormones, and college applications to juggle. While it’s important to seek advice from trusted adults, sometimes as a teenager you just want to hear straight from other teens.

Here, CHOC’s teen advisers share their best tips for building and maintaining habits that help them lead their healthiest lives. Read on for their advice on staying organized, staying healthy and more.

Heather, age 15

Over the last few years, I have learned a lot of ways to avoid procrastination. Each morning, I like to sit down and think of everything I need to accomplish that day, and I plan out when I am going to do it all. One of my favorite things is the reminders app in my phone; I use it all the time and it gives me a good idea of when I need to get things done and how long I have to do them.

Whenever I want to complete any nutrition goal, I find a friend who wants to do it with me. For example, my friend and I are both trying to give up soda. I always find myself not drinking enough water, and to drink more I will set reminders in my phone and I always try to bring an insulated water bottle to school every day. By working towards a goal with a friend (in this case, no soda), it’s easier to achieve.

Adopting healthy habits as a teenager is very important because behavior as a teen is laying the foundation for behavior as an adult. My friends and I constantly encourage each other to make good decisions and live healthier lifestyles. We often talk about eating healthier, or help each other clean our rooms, or complete goals together, like quitting soda.

Zoe, age 14

For me, getting involved with sports has helped me make progress towards leading an overall healthier lifestyle.

Going into high school, I never pictured myself getting into sports because until very recently, I haven’t been much of an athlete. Outside of the mandatory physical education classes, my exercise was limited to karate twice a week. I couldn’t tell you how I got into wrestling a few months ago, I never imagined being a part of a sports team― let alone a varsity letterman― but here I am, and I’ve never felt better. My parents have always encouraged me to be active, but wrestling takes this to a whole new level. I went from working out for an hour two days a week to working out three hours five days a week.

My journey has proven that you don’t have to be a born and raised athlete to compete in sports. I didn’t grow up wrestling, but I took a leap of faith and I haven’t looked back since.

Along with the sport, I learned how to take care of myself physically. For example, I learned that if I didn’t eat healthy food before practice, I would feel terrible during and after, so eating right just fell into place. The same thing applied to drinking enough water and getting enough sleep. Because I’m growing, I realize that these things are vital now more than ever, for the sake of my development and my overall well-being.

Workouts may seem daunting, especially if you’re as busy like me, but if you set aside a little time each day to do something healthy, you’ll see how much happier you are throughout the day.

Carina, age 16

One healthy habit I’ve implemented in my daily routine is to stay hydrated. While the saying “stay hydrated” is often overused on social media today, I’ve realized that the positive effects it has on your overall health play a significant impact on how you feel throughout your day. After drinking the recommended amount of water per day, I feel energized and more awake than if I was dehydrated. Since I have to wake up very early for school, drinking water has made me more inclined to work in class and keep me full of energy until my practice starts at the end of the day.

Friends are a great support system while adopting a new healthy habit. To make sure that you stick with your change, you can start your new journey with your friends and help each other through the process. This way, rather than attempting to go through a lifestyle change by yourself, there is someone to talk to and encourage each other while pursuing this new habit.

Layla, age 13

The hardest part of creating habits is starting them, or sometimes, breaking old ones. I love sharing my tips and tricks on healthy habits.

My habits are built off my schedule in the day. I wake up early to get to school on time, and I always eat breakfast, even if it is just an apple or granola bar. There is a reason that breakfast is called the most important meal of the day. Eating breakfast gets your mind and body ready to take on the day.  I study hard in school and socialize with my friends. After school, I have volleyball practice, or other after school activities. When I get home, I finish my homework, and then I go to bed. My routine may be strict, but it helps me develop good habits.

It’s important to remember that no one is perfect.  When trying to make improvements to my routine, I try to focus on getting rid of one bad habit at a time. Right now, I am trying to read more. I love reading, but I feel like I never have the time anymore. So, I am using some of my phone time to read and relax. I already love being able to read again, and it inspires me to take on more of my bad habits.

Creating good habits as a teenager is good for responsibilities later on in life. If we keep pushing away responsibilities and saying that we’ll get to them later, we build bad habits for adulthood. Our brains develop the most at childhood and during adolescence, and if we become responsible now, it will be so much easier to live like this as we get older.

My friends have been a great support system in When my friends remind me of what I need to do, it helps me prioritize what’s on my plate. Sometimes, I’ll say that I won’t study for my test, and that I think I know the material enough. My friends will look at me and say, “You’re gonna regret that, Layla.” Having good friends to help keep me accountable is important.

Finding a system that works for you is important in building good, healthy habits. Good habits can be very difficult to develop and maintain, but when your put in the work, you will become used to the routine, and develop a good system in getting things done.

Sanam, age 16

I do a few different things to help stay healthy. I play a sport at my high school, which helps me stay in shape. I always take water with me wherever I go because sometimes when our brains tell us that we’re hungry, we’re thirsty. This keeps me full and hydrated. Plus, drinking enough water helps maintain healthy and clear skin.

Whenever I’m stressed, I check in with myself and do what makes me happy. That could be watching my favorite TV show or spending time with family. I also choose to work out when I’m stressed because it keeps me busy and healthy.

As teens, it’s important for us to take on healthier lifestyles right now because this is the age where are brains are still developing and we can cement our healthy habits.

My friends and I always talk about how we must stay healthy. They support me, and I support them. We’ve made our own plan to start eating healthier and working out together.

Focus on your health over meeting a certain ideal. Listen to your body and yourself and talk to your doctor. Don’t force yourself to go on diets or do extreme workouts you can’t handle. Looks aren’t what matter. It’s all about self-care and self-love. Don’t just listen to others; listen to your body and do what’s best for you.

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New Year’s Resolution Ideas from our Teen Advisers

It’s no secret that children often model their parents’ behavior and habits. As many adults make New Year’s resolutions in areas like health, productivity and self-care, it’s a good opportunity to talk to your kids about setting and sticking to good habits.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers a list of new year’s resolutions ideas for preschoolers through teenagers.

Below, members of our Teen Advisory Council share their New Year’s resolutions, plus how they plan to stick to them. We’d love to hear your family’s resolutions—let us know in the comments below!

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Zoe Borchard, teen adviser

Zoe Borchard

To me, New Year’s resolutions are a fantastic idea, but most people don’t have time for the kinds of commitments they set.

Now this isn’t to say that all resolutions are unattainable, it’s simply necessary to start small when planning for the new year. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Good resolutions to start with vary from person to person, so you should ask yourself the question: “What have I always wanted to improve in my life?” Loaded question, right? Just spend a minute reflecting on it. I’ll use myself as an example, I’ve always wanted to get more organized, so in the new year, I’d like to make that happen in all aspects of my life.

It’s a lot to ask of myself to organize everything in my life and then keep it as a habit, so I’ll start with small things and work up to it. I could say things like I’m going to organize my school binders with subject dividers, I’m going to write down my activities in a daily planner, etc.

It shouldn’t be too hard to keep up if you started small, but something I always remember is that it only takes one day to break a habit, and 21 days to make another one. It’s also important to remember that you will never regret doing something good for yourself. Keeping these things in mind, you have all the tools you need to make and keep your resolutions this year! Remember to dream big, plan small, and most importantly, believe in yourself!

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Layla Valenzuela, teen adviser

Layla Valenzuela

A new year is a time to go back and look over what we’ve accomplished, and in what areas we fell short. New Year’s resolutions are a great way to change little things that we would like to improve, and to add new things to improve our lives. However, we must be rational when making these goals. So, here are some ways that I brainstorm my own resolutions:

  • Be realistic. While making goals, we have to remember to outline practical ideas. Saying that we will be millionaires by the end of the year is not 100 percent realistic. Think about who you are, and if you can see yourself fulfilling your goal, then go for it!
  • Remember your goals. In order to keep your goals top of mind, try writing them down somewhere where they can be seen daily. Or, set a reminder on your smartphone. Just remind yourself of your goals and slowly incorporate them into your daily life.
  • Don’t push too hard. This is where New Year’s resolutions can get dangerous. Especially for teenagers, we cannot set goals that we know can be risky. For example, I know that many adults tend to set goals to lose a certain amount of weight. A healthier goal for teens could be incorporating healthy habits like exercise into your daily routine.
  • Think of what you want for yourself, not what other people want. Don’t let peer pressure affect your goal setting in a negative way.
  • On the less serious side of things, create a resolution that makes you happy. My New Year’s Resolution is to do things that will make me happy. I am not going to listen to music that I don’t like just because everyone else likes it. I am trying to set up a healthy, exciting, and positive lifestyle for the new coming year
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Heather Bisset, a teen adviser

Heather Bisset

I set goals for myself throughout the year, but have some trouble completing them because it’s hard to set a timeline or end date for something that will help me personally. I usually have better luck accomplishing my goals when I can hit refresh on a new year, with a clear roadway ahead of me.

Remember to break down larger goals into smaller steps. For example, say my goal was to do better in school. That’s a big goal, and I would break it down into smaller increments. For this goal, I would make a checklist that would have multiple steps including:

  • study for an hour every day for a week leading up to a test;
  • work on homework before practice instead of after;
  • put my phone away when doing homework or studying.

Setting big goals can feel overwhelming, and they are easier to accomplish if you break them down into smaller pieces. Plus, crossing off tasks—even small ones– on a checklist feels rewarding.

To stick to my goals, I tend to set reminders on my phone. I also tell my friends or peers about my goals, if they see me steering away from my resolution, they can kindly remind me to get back on track.

This year, my resolutions are to stop biting my nails, to be more consistent with completing my household chores, to stay off my phone more, and to stop drinking soda. These are all simple things that will make me happier with myself.

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Cameron Macedonio, a teen adviser

Cameron Macedonio

I see New Year’s resolutions as kind of obsolete, as they’re often times not followed. If you want to change something about yourself, you don’t have to wait for a new year.

To set realistic goals, know your limits. It’s totally acceptable to want to push your limits but be realistic. Try consulting a friend or loved one before setting a big goal so they can try to talk about a game plan with you.

Also, don’t stress if you cannot complete your goals! Life is full of trial and error; embrace your failure and learn from it. Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is normal, and it doesn’t make you a loser or a complete failure; just persist past your misfortune and use it as fire to drive you to success.

Even though I don’t really have a New Year’s resolution this year, I am just working hard to keep my head in the right place and be ready for any extra challenges that may come my way.

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Sanam Sediqi, a teen adviser

Sanam Sediqi

New Year’s resolutions are a good way to set healthy and positive goals for the next chapter in your life. However, setting unrealistic goals that are hard to reach can give way to self-doubt and feeling like a failure

My best advice is to set easy-to-achieve resolutions that will make a positive change in your life.  When setting resolutions, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. For example, tell yourself you’re going to work hard and pass your classes. Or that you’re going to spend more time with your family, or you’re going to try and eat healthier. It’s always good to tell yourself to try. Even if you don’t succeed you know you tried at the least.

One way to stick to your goal, and something I plan on doing this year, is to make a vision board. Keep this in your bathroom or bedroom as a daily reminder why you’re doing what you’re doing. I believe that having a little reminder every day is what it takes to stick to your goal and to keep pushing.

My New Year’s resolution is definitely to try new things, and to get to know more people. I would also like to become a healthier version of myself, as well as go to college, get my license and spend more time with my family. To me, these are goals I believe I can reach and I can’t wait to accomplish them.

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CHOC Teen Advisers Weigh in on NYT Article “Please Stop Merchandising Mental Illness”

In response to a recent New York Times article titled “Please Stop Merchandising Mental Illness,” the CHOC Children’s Teen Advisory Council weighed in on our culture’s tendency to romanticize mental illness. The CHOC Children’s Teen Advisory Council is made up of outstanding teens who are active in their community, committed to academic success, and support CHOC’s mission to nurture, advance and protect the health and well-being of children.

Armed with examples of what they see and hear in each of their schools, they discuss how each of us can do our part to put an end to the misconception that having a mental illness is trendy.

Do you have other ideas? Leave them in the comments below. We want to hear from you!

Layla, age 13

Slogans and quotes can be printed on a bag or shirt quicker than people can think about what it really means. Sometimes, people can say things before they have a chance to think about what they are saying. For example, a word we use commonly is crazy. It may seem innocent, but crazy can mean different things to different people. We have to be more aware when choosing our words. Instead of using words like crazy and insane, describe something unusual as strange or bizarre. If we make little changes, it can slowly make a difference.

Carina, age 15

Most people don’t fully understand anxiety, depression or other mental illnesses. On social media you find people talking about it all the time, which is great as it brings more awareness and allows people with actual mental illnesses to share their stories. However, it has become almost a cool thing to say on these platforms. Social media and TV shows have a part to play in the growth of mental illnesses being “trendy” and also bringing more awareness to it, but they could do more to provide real education. People don’t understand what mental illness is, and some just believe that anxiety and depression, for example, are just feelings.

I see some of this happening at my school. In most cases I hear the phrase, “Ugh, ______ gives me anxiety” when in reality, they mean stressed and it usually has to do with tests, quizzes or an upcoming presentation. I’m not sure if they do actually have anxiety. However, most people I hear use the term very loosely and should be more careful with their word choice.

Cameron, age 15

It doesn’t surprise me that people romanticize mental illness. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting attention; humans are a social species and attention is essential for self-esteem and social skills. Many people who romanticize mental illness don’t have these illnesses; instead it is them asking for attention or validation. However, people are trying to normalize terms like depression or anxiety, almost in an effort for people to see an exaggerated version of their emotions. Something that comes to mind is a shirt that I’ve seen others wear that depicts an adorable coffee cup with the phrase, “No Coffee Makes Me Depresso” My friend pointed out to me how the shirt was problematic. Odds are that not having coffee doesn’t make this person depressed. I dismissed it as a poor excuse for a joke, but thinking about it, it was a call for attention. Not having coffee doesn’t make you depressed. It may make you upset or even feel a little off, but it doesn’t make you depressed, something experienced by millions of Americans. Depression is a widespread illness that shouldn’t be joked about in this way.

Celebrities are also extremely vocal about mental illness, which can be both good and bad. If many people speak out about mental illness, the suffering can start to seem normal. It then becomes this situation where when someone comes forth with their struggles and they are met with responses like, “So does everyone else” or “It’s not just you” which can invalidate their feelings. After all, it’s normal, right? If there’s nobody with social influence speaking out, who’s going to inspire those struggling by themselves to come forward? Society is complicated, but for now we just need to develop an understanding for each other and extend a helping hand to those who feel helpless.

As a society, we must grow to learn that mental illness is a serious issue, not something that we weave into our everyday lives for the sake of seeming trendy or getting attention. We’re only human and we make mistakes, but it’s time we fix our mistakes.

Alyssa, age 14

My first reaction to these claims is that we should be mindful that people express themselves different ways. We may not agree with how they do it, but it’s best to perceive their actions with some empathy and take the extra step to see if they are trying to reach out. Fashion has always been a form of expression so by people expressing their feelings with a necklace that says “anxiety” or an article of clothing that says “sad” that could be a way of expressing themselves or a cry for help. Mental illness should never be seen as a joke and should be taken seriously. Mental illness should never be trendy and should be talked about more, so if having an article of clothing or a piece of jewelry with the words “anxiety” or “depression” sparks up a conversation, then that’s a positive thing for people who care about helping people with these illnesses because it spreads awareness

Heather, age 14

I believe that having issues or being depressed has become a trend recently for adolescents. A while back, the TV show “13 Reasons Why” became popular with teenagers. The show depicts a girl named Hannah going through depression and eventually committing suicide. In my opinion, anyone watching the show who was going through similar stuff that Hannah was going through, would became sad along with her. I thought the show tossed around words like suicide, rape and depression very casually, making these words’ connotation less severe. When words like that are casually tossed around on popular TV shows and in songs we hear on the radio, people begin to use these words in their everyday conversations without really knowing the effect of their word choice. This trend in conversation leads companies to create backpacks, pins, t-shirts and other merchandise with these words in trendy font because it has become an ideal lifestyle for almost every teenager. Whenever people come across a difficult or stressful situation they often say ‘I’m gonna commit’ or “kms’’ which stands for kill myself. By casually using serious words in everyday conversation, some of these intense mental health situations have been stripped of their true meaning and are being tossed around like a joke. This is unfair to the people that actually struggle with mental health problems.

Learn more about mental health services at CHOC

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Meet our Teen Advisory Council

Say hello to our inaugural class of teen advisers.

The CHOC Children’s Teen Advisory Council is made up of outstanding teens who are active in their community, committed to academic success, and support CHOC’s mission to nurture, advance and protect the health and well-being of children.

Being a teenager isn’t easy. There’s peer pressure, academic pressure, hormones, and college applications to think about. Sometimes it’s helpful to get advice from a parent or trusted mentor, but sometimes as a teenager you just want to hear straight from other teens, especially about topics that may be hard to talk about.

You’ll see these faces on our blog, and hear them on our podcast, discussing how they and their friends deal with common issues teens face, from bullying to healthy eating to stress management, and everything in between. From time to time they may be joined by a CHOC Children’s clinician or other staff member.

Today, they’re giving us a sneak peek inside their summer plans.

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Alyssa Mercado, 14

This summer I am keeping busy babysitting for family and friends. I will be staying active by going to the gym, and training for the upcoming volleyball season. I am also maintaining my social life by meeting up with friends and hanging out on my free time.

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Layla Valenzuela, 12

This summer, I will be playing volleyball, participating in a fun theater camp, hanging out with friends and traveling to Alaska with my family. Playing volleyball during the summer will prepare me for the next club season and help keep me in shape. Performing arts is near and dear to my heart, as is hanging out with my friends and traveling with my family. It’s going to be a busy, but very fun and engaging summer!

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Heather Bisset, 14

I plan to keep busy this summer by playing tournaments with my club volleyball team, going to the beach and spending time with my friends, and studying for my upcoming AP European History class. I also hope to find a volunteer position at an animal shelter.

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Carina Alvaro, 14

This summer, I will be taking geometry to advance in math my sophomore year. I will also be participating in several softball recruiting tournaments in hopes of getting committed to a university on a softball scholarship. For fun, I will be hanging out with my friends at the beach and going to concerts.

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Cameron Macedonio, 15

Since I have no mandatory commitments over summer like summer school, I am keeping busy by socializing and having fun. We like going to the movies, going out to eat, and going to amusement parks.

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Sanam Sediqi, 16

This summer I am keeping up quite a busy schedule. I am currently taking summer college courses including American Sign Language. On the weekends, I work as a body artist for face paint at Disneyland.

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Zoe Borchard, 14

This summer, I’m working hard to get the most out of my break. I’m enjoying my camp counseling position. When I’m not a counselor, I’m busy working on my online health  course for high school next year. I’m also traveling to Montana to visit family. Whatever free time I can get is spent reading, sketching or adventuring with friends.

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