Helping Teens When a Parent Has Cancer

As a father of two teenagers, I liked the practical suggestions contained in this article on teenagers dealing with a parent’s cancer. While each teenager, like each person, is different (our two kids reacted differently), the list below is a good one of things to consider (and I hope none of you have to!).

Tell the truth. Teenagers have the right to and capacity to understand information. They may feel sensitive to information they feel is incomplete or inaccurate.

Provide detailed information. This is especially true when it comes to information about diagnosis, treatment and prognosis. They may seek out further information on their own in addition to what you provide. Be aware of the fact that information found on the Internet can be (blatantly) wrong. It is important to know if a teen has been researching the Internet and if so, to discuss the findings (and their veracity). The more communication the better!

Respect the adolescent’s privacy and opinions by not prying or being judgmental. They may or may not want to talk about the experience with their family. It is important to reassure teens that they can receive support from other sources, like an uncle, a friend’s parent, a teacher, clergy person or another member of the extended family.

Understand that teens are often self-conscious. A teenager whose parent has cancer may feel even more different. A support group or peer-to-peer network can help them understand that there are others going through a similar experience.

Include teenagers who want to participate in the caregiving. They should participate in tasks that respect the fact that they are not adults, and yet no longer young children. Provide some time away from the parent. Remember that there is a push-pull relationship that continues despite the cancer diagnosis.

Although the adolescent is capable of abstraction, do not overestimate this capability.Discuss the diagnosis and treatment in simplistic, concrete terms. Provide diagrams and models to ensure comprehension.

Encourage teenagers who want to accompany their family member to treatment in order to see the facility and meet the treatment team. This can help them feel more in control about how medical care is provided.

Facilitate the teen’s maintenance of his or her support network. This will go a long way in providing not only support, but also a sense of much-needed normalcy.

Provide consistency. Make an effort to ensure that they will still attend normal activities and social events.

Hollye Harrington Jacobs: Helping Teens When a Parent Has Cancer.

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