Adolescence is a time when parents of teens with chronic illnesses or medical challenges may want to tear their hair out.
Adolescence is the period where teens need to psychologically move away from their parents and become more independent. Many times, teens will push limits to see how far they can go.
It is also the time when many teenagers with chronic illness want to throw in the towel. They are tired of being different, of missing opportunities to be with friends because of because of medications, appointments, treatments, or special needs, or of just not feeling well. They are tired of watching what they do or eat, of knowing one wrong move could make them sicker or land them in the hospital.
In short, just when you need them to understand the importance of complying with medical routines, they may be ready to check out.
As a parent, you know that giving up (either them or you) is not an option. So how do you get them to get with the program and take responsibility for their health?
Step 1: Meet them where they are.
We all know that teenagers tend to do what they want. Nagging, or trying to convince them to do something they don’t want to do, rarely work. Begin the discussion instead by asking about their long term goals and talking about the steps they’ll need to achieve them.
Step 2: Set realistic expectations.
Don’t expect huge changes overnight. Set small goals for your teen to accomplish. The smaller the goal, the more likely it will be achieved, the greater the accomplishment and the stronger the will to continue on the road.
Step 3: Support the move towards change.
Make sure that the environment supports the changes that they are trying to make. For example, if your child is trying to stay on top of her medication schedule, suggest setting an alarm on her phone as a reminder or leave the bottle out on the breakfast table. Whenever possible, make sure that whatever is needed for success is easily accessible.
Step 4: Look for outside supports.
Managing your teen’s chronic illness is a team effort. Look to her health care providers for ideas on how to improve and motivate her. Many teens find that connecting with peers in similar situations is helpful. Many illness-centered groups, for example StupidCancer.com, or sites dedicated to teenagers like teenshealth.org or Bandaids & Blackboards for Teens have online communities that teens can join.
Step 5: Keep the encouragement coming!
Don’t nag! It’s counterproductive; eventually your teen will tune you out. Use positive reinforcement. Let your teenager know that you can see the changes and how proud you are. That may be all the motivation she needs. Every small change is a step toward continued health, so let her know you’ve noticed!