As parents, it’s our job to protect our children, and that includes doing what we can to prevent them catching back to school germs. So if you want to know how to stop your kids getting the back-to-school flu, or how to make natural cold remedies at home, then you’re in the right place.
As the autumn term approaches many parents are wondering how to protect teens from germs, especially because young people’s immune systems are still developing, making them more susceptible to bugs. And close contact with friends and teachers at school, sharing books, desks and devices, can mean that bugs and bacteria are rife.
Tommy Hatto, award-winning wellbeing coach and founder of Tommy Hatto Online, told Goodto: “During the teenage years, it's incredibly important to start looking at overall wellbeing. In the summer, teens are more likely to be outside in fresh air with good ventilation. So on return to the classroom, they are more susceptible to pick up germs from classmates or teachers if they haven't proactively taken steps to look after their health over the summer.”
The good news is there are some simple steps that teenagers can take to reduce the risk of illness at school, including good hygiene, a nutritious diet, healthy gut, more sleep and less stress. Read on to find out more about the seven tips to protect teens from back-to-school germs.
1) Stay strong and healthy
Boosting immunity: Around 70-80% of your immune system is in the gut, so this means if it isn’t healthy, then your immunity will be poor, too, and you’ll get sick. A healthy gut has a wide range of beneficial bacteria that is vital for a strong immune system, explains Tommy. “If you have poor gut health, the duration of sickness will be prolonged because your body is working harder to try and fight off illness or infection.”
You can improve your gut health by eating gut-friendly foods including live yoghurt, garlic, ginger and bananas. Good nutrition will help keep illness at bay, and will also fuel the body with energy when you feel run down.
Up your vitamin D: The sunshine vitamin helps the immune system fight off bacteria and viruses, research published in the Journal of Investigative Medicine found. This is especially important for people with darker skin because studies show that they tend to make less vitamin D in the sun than those with lighter skin tones. Vitamin D-rich foods include egg yolks, mushrooms, salmon and tinned tuna.
Get moving: Exercise is great for physical and mental health. Personal trainer Maddy Biddulph says: “You don’t need an expensive gym membership to get fit and healthy. Go out for a long bike ride with your teens, try something new like paddleboarding, or get them out of their comfort zone with a wild swim - it’s so good for reducing stress and being present. Working out with family not only fuels connection and feelings of wellbeing, regular exercise boosts sleep quality, which in turn supports a healthy immune system.”
2) Stop the spread
Germs can spread between people through direct contact like shaking hands, hugging or kissing, or indirectly when germs are on something that gets touched, like a doorknob or towel, and then it spreads when the hands touch the nose, eyes or mouth.
Good hygiene: Hand washing is one of the best ways to keep yourself from getting sick. Rub hands under the water for 20 seconds and rub, scrub and interlink fingers paying special attention to fingertips. Using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser regularly is another way to stop the spread of germs.
Cover your cough or sneeze: Germs are easily spread with coughing and sneezing, as they remain in the air on tiny droplets, ready to be breathed in. National Geographic found that a sneeze can travel as much as six feet!
They can also linger on surfaces long after you’ve coughed or sneezed on or near them. Use a tissue when you cough or sneeze and throw it away straight after, then wash hands. If you don’t have one to hand, cough or sneeze into your inner elbow. And again, wash hands straight after or use hand sanitiser.
3) Stay on top of vaccinations
Keep the family up to date with vaccinations: this is an invaluable way to protect young children and teens in autumn. If your teen is scared of needles, give them the opportunity to talk about their feelings to reduce anxiety. Breathing techniques can also help reduce stress levels.
4) Sharing is not always caring ...
Don’t share personal items: avoid sharing things like food, lipsticks, computers, calculators, drinking bottles or anything that might be contaminated with respiratory germs, especially mobiles. A recent study found more than 17,000 bacterial gene copies on the phones of teenage students.
5) Get good rest
Invest in good sleep: when we’re asleep, the body repairs and rejuvenates itself, which helps the immune system operate at full strength. According to the Mayo Clinic, people who don't get enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as the common cold. Sleep deprivation can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick.
Dr. Naheed Ali, lead writer at Sleep Bubble, told Goodto: “Good sleep isn't just about feeling refreshed in the morning; it's a cornerstone for overall wellbeing. A restful night's sleep has been linked to maintaining a healthy gut flora, which as we’ve heard, plays a pivotal role in our digestion, nutrient absorption, and immune function.
“When our gut is happy, our body responds in kind, leading to increased energy, better mood, and a strengthened defence against illness. So, next time you prioritise a good night's sleep, remember you're also giving a nod to your gut and overall health.”
6) Chill out
Avoid stress: being stressed out can weaken immunity, and while some exam cramming is inevitable, encouraging your teen to be organised and prepare ahead of time can help reduce stress levels. Wellbeing practices including mindfulness and breathwork can help to naturally calm the central nervous system and promote good mental health during stressful times.
7) Invest in anti-bacterial tech
Shockingly, the average keyboard has around 20,000 times more bacteria than a toilet seat, according to research by CBT Nuggets. Microbes attach themselves to devices with every touch and tap so it’s wise to regularly disinfect phones, tablets and computers with antibacterial wipes.
As many teenagers already have their own mobile, and kids often share tablets and computers at school, the spread of germs is rife. Thankfully, anti-bacterial cases and screen protectors are now available, offering peace of mind when it comes to back-to-school bugs.
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Maddy Biddulph is a freelance journalist specialising in lifestyle and family-focused content. With 25 years in consumer media, she has worked as a writer and editor for some of the bestselling newspapers, magazines and websites in the UK and US. As a mum of two art-obsessed daughters, Daphne and Esther, Maddy is always looking for parenting hacks to make life easier. She is also a Level 3 personal trainer, and creates energising workouts for busy mums who need some me time.
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