Clinics and Departments
Chronic illness and teenagers
For teens with a chronic illness or disability, adolescence is a combination of a special developmental period and a difficult set of challenges. Adolescence is a unique developmental time characterized by emerging independence, rapid cognitive and physical growth, and the development of an identity. Peer relationships develop a special significance during adolescence. Chronic illness and disability impose physical limitations, often require repeat medical visits, and can involve complex medical treatments.
A chronic illness or disability can affect an adolescent in many ways:
What Parents Can Do
A parent’s role in a teen’s adjustment to his or her illness is critical. In addition to the health and medical care a parent helps provide, there are some important efforts parents can make to ensure their child’s adjustment to their illness. These efforts can go a long way in helping teens, and their parents, carry on through the challenges of illness.
Parents need to help teens adapt to their illness. This means recognizing the limitations their illness imposes. It also means continuing with life as usual, whenever possible. It is important for families to decide what is realistic for each member to manage and to remain flexible to meet the unexpected demands of an illness.
An illness can stress the entire family as constant demands are placed on its members. Nevertheless, family members need to maintain a commitment to the family. Family relationships need special attention. Keeping communications open. Spend time together that is not focused on the illness. Siblings often feel overlooked when a brother’s or sister’s needs demand so much family time.
Parents need to help teens learn new ways to cope with the special challenges of an illness. Discussing with a teen how their illness is affecting him or her and finding ways to help solve problems or cope with the feelings is very helpful. Teens can learn to build on their strengths and can even develop pride in their abilities to meet the challenges.
Illness often interferes with routines and activities. For teens, a particularly devastating consequence can be the weakening or loss of friendships. Friends can grow apart as a result of these changes. Keeping teens involved with their peers and making extra efforts to maintain those connections can go a long way in helping a teen cope with an illness. Helping teens to find new ways to make and maintain new relationships is critical during this time.
Coping with an illness can be discouraging and facing a life-threatening condition can be scary. Keeping hopeful is crucial. Looking for the positive in situations and keeping optimistic are especially important during this time. This does not mean negative feelings should be ignored. Concerns and worries should be recognized. All the possible positive outcomes need to be considered.
To cope well with an illness, families need to be able to rely on others for help. This support can be available from family and friends, and also can include developing relationships with professional experts in the field of illness and disability. Working together with personal and professional supports can help a family receive the best care for their teen while maintaining their daily life.
When to Seek Help
Coping with the challenges of a chronic or life threatening illness is a difficult challenge for anyone. For a teen, the more their illness interferes with school, friends, and activities, the more difficult the adjustment to the illness can be. The special challenges of this time can require special help. Most teens find support and guidance important at this time, even if their usual network of family and friends is supportive. But often it becomes important to seek the advice and counsel of a mental health professional. These professionals can support teens’ coping, development, and health. Teens who have experienced recent changes with friendships or whose physical health is poor because of the illness can particularly benefit from professional help. Teens who appear depressed or who show other signs of depression should receive professional help immediately.
Often medical treatment programs have services available to support teens and their families in managing an illness. These services can include education about the illness or condition, support for coping, and fun activities for teens and their families.
Services of Children’s Hospitals
Child and Family Services
Family Resource Center
Living with Chronic Illness
Coping and Connecting: Teens Talk about Living with A Chronic Illness
Young People and Chronic Illness
Teens Face to Face with Chronic Illness
Taking Charge: Teenagers Talk about Life and Physical Disabilities
PACER Center, Inc
Pathfinder Resources, Inc.
New England Journal Medicine, http://content.nejm.org/
Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.com/