As a medical provider who cares for many teens I am constantly amazed by their accomplishments, tenacity, and juggling of busy schedules. Teens with chronic illness have even more challenges than those with more typical health. I sometimes we adults forget to give credit where credit is due, so I’d like to highlight some of the characteristics I’ve noticed amongst my patients over the years. I’d encourage parents to also take a moment to give your teen some positive praise too!
Teens with chronic illness may be hospitalized when their friends are going to Prom, or have to give themselves an injection of insulin with every meal. The patients I meet have to confront their disease daily. They cannot ignore because it is never going away. They juggle busy schedules with extracurricular activities and doctor’s appointments; maintain romantic relationships and friendships; some even care for parents or other family members. Somehow, these same teens are able to keep their sense of humor, inspire others to pursue their dreams, and keep a positive outlook on life.
Adolescence is hard enough if you are able bodied and healthy. Being different than peers can lead to ridicule, bullying, or poor self-esteem. Teens with chronic illness face the same challenges with self confidence, puberty, navigating relationships, becoming autonomous, and they may also be faced with their own mortality. I recall a patient with cystic fibrosis who had a lung transplant, but was doing very poorly. She resolved to let nothing stop her! Instead of being afraid, she made sure she lived every single day with purpose.
Patients may be suffering from daily pain, or they may require the use of braces, vests, feeding tubes and other medical equipment. Daily finger pokes and routine blood draws are common and expected. Teens not only exhibit physical strength, they have a strength of spirit to keep going every day.
Everyone will have ups and downs in life. We all experience joy and loss. The teens I meet are often very open to sharing their stories with other children who’ve been newly diagnosed with illness, volunteering at camps that are meant for children with health related issues, or just lending a shoulder for a friend to cry on. They are able to show that they understand the emotions of others because often, they’ve lived through all of these emotions over and over.
This is not an expansive list of characteristics (that would be too long for a blog post), but I’m interested in readers’ experiences. Do you have other positive attributes that come to mind when you think of a teen with chronic illness? Take a moment and give a word of praise for the positive behaviors you see in teens.