Does your teen have the skills to manage their own health care?

By: Linda Tirabassi, PhD, RN, CNS, CPNP, program director, Transition of Care Program

As your child gets older, life transitions like graduation, going to college or leaving home may be on the horizon. While every parent may worry about these changes, it can be even more stress inducing for parents of teens with chronic illnesses.

Children and teens living with a chronic illness may require daily care that may be demanding, yet crucial for preventing complications. This care may involve reordering medicines, scheduling appointments, or getting regular screenings or testing. It’s important for parents to support and coach their growing teens during this transition period, so they can eventually be their own health advocate. By starting early and taking small steps your teen will be able to gain insight and skills to prepare them for transitioning to adult health care.

Becoming an Adult

Reaching adulthood often seems like a distant milestone in the busyness of family life. At age 18, a lot of changes happen. Teens can vote, give consent for medical treatments, control who can hear their medical information, and they also have to make the transition from a pediatric to adult health care provider. This is crucial to ensuring their health care is uninterrupted and done in an age-appropriate setting.

As teens mature, there are steps parents can take to help your teen become more responsible for their health. Growing toward adulthood is a team effort. Below are some skills that parents can coach their teens toward this goal.

Between the ages of 14 – 15, teens should begin to work on these responsibilities:

  • Learn about their medical condition, such as the name and cause of their illness.
  • Make agreements with parents on what they will do on their own, including some of their daily health activities like taking their medicines.
  • Be able to name their medicines, what they are for, and the amount and time of day they need to take them.
  • Participate in their health care, including answering at least one question during their doctor’s appointment.

Between the ages of 16 – 17, teens should begin to be more independent and practice:

  • Tracking their medical history. Preparing for medical appointments by writing down their questions in a medical notebook or a health app.
  • Reordering their medicines when their supply is low.
  • Notifying their doctors when they need a new prescription.
  • Answer most of the questions during their health care visit.
  • Spend time alone with the doctor(s) during health care visits to gain comfort in addressing their health care concerns
  • Tell their doctors that they understand and agree with the medicines and treatments they suggest.
  • Tell the difference between a primary care doctor and a specialist.
  • Know what to expect when they turn 18 years old.

After your teen turns 18, they should be able to:

  • Understand the shift to adult responsibilities.
  • Be alone with the doctor(s) or choose who is with them during their health care visits.
  • Answer all questions during their health care visit.
  • Identify an adult doctor that they will go to when they leave their pediatric doctor.
  • Manage all of their regular health activities.
  • Know what their new insurance will be.
  • Practice independent living skills, such as cooking, managing money and paying bills.

Being able to complete theses health care tasks will help your teen live on their own, attend college and have a job. It doesn’t happen in one day, but with your support they can learn and practice the things that will make them independent.

Learn more about ways to support your teen on their health care journey.

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