I’m Jenna – a former pediatric patient, current adult patient, chronic illness advocate, veteran Upal, current Upopolis member, and a 19-year-old disabled queen. I want to share some valuable insights for healthcare providers on how to better support and communicate with teenagers.
It’s crucial to bridge the gap between treating teens like children and acknowledging that they are not quite adults yet, all while avoiding stigmatization and promoting a comfortable environment for their care. Here are a few tips for every professional who works with teenage patients who have a chronic or critical illness:
1. Respect Their Maturity: Teenagers, regardless of their medical condition, appreciate being treated with respect. It’s essential for healthcare providers to acknowledge their maturity and individuality. Try not to speak down to them or dismiss their feelings and concerns. Teens may not be adults, but they are capable of understanding their health conditions and making informed decisions.
2. Avoid Stigmatization: Teens are pretty cool, and they don’t want to be judged or stigmatized based on their age or appearance. Avoid making assumptions about their behavior or lifestyle choices. Be open-minded and supportive, recognizing that everyone’s journey is unique. Stigmatization only creates barriers to effective healthcare.
3. Offer Distraction and Support: For teenagers, undergoing medical procedures or facing chronic illnesses, distraction items, or offering support from a professional like a child life specialist, can be incredibly helpful. These professionals are skilled at providing emotional support and creative distractions that make the medical experience less intimidating. Whenever possible, involving them can ease the stress and anxiety teenagers may feel during their healthcare journey.
4. Address Body Image Issues: Body shaming has no place in healthcare. Teenagers, just like adults, can experience body image insecurities. When providing care, be mindful of your language and actions. Promote positive body image and self-acceptance. Encourage open conversations about body-related concerns, but always do so with empathy and sensitivity.
5. Be Kind and Empathetic: Kindness goes a long way, especially when working with teenagers facing health challenges. Showing empathy and compassion can make a significant difference in how teenagers perceive their healthcare experiences. Listen actively, validate their feelings, and offer emotional support. A little kindness can alleviate anxiety and foster trust.
6. Encourage Independence: While it’s important to provide guidance and support, empowering teenagers to take charge of their health is equally vital. Encourage them to ask questions, express their concerns, and actively participate in their treatment plans. By promoting independence, healthcare providers can help teens develop essential life skills for managing their health in the future.
7. Foster Communication: Effective communication is the cornerstone of quality healthcare. Ensure that teenagers have the opportunity to voice their opinions, ask questions, and participate in shared decision-making. Create a safe and non-judgmental environment for open dialogue, which can lead to better treatment adherence and overall well-being.
As a former pediatric patient, current adult patient, and chronic illness advocate, I can attest to the importance of healthcare providers following these guidelines when working with teenagers. It’s crucial to strike a balance between recognizing their maturity and providing age-appropriate care, avoiding stigmatization, and fostering a respectful, supportive environment. Distraction items, kindness, and empowerment are essential components of ensuring a positive healthcare experience for teenagers, regardless of their health challenges. By implementing these tips, healthcare providers can make a profound impact on the lives of their young patients, promoting their overall well-being and encouraging them to take an active role in their healthcare journey.