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Helping teens take responsibility for their health

If you have a child with asthma or allergies or some other condition that requires regular attention for healthy maintenance, thinking about helping your child take some control of their health is likely something that has been in your head. When your child is young, this thought may be a little more abstract; you can think all you want on it, a small child still needs an adult to turn to and to depend on. But as your child heads into the middle school and teenage years, taking charge of the condition becomes far more real, and it becomes a very serious issue.

Teen with inhaler

I remember being thrilled when my son was a baby and started to become verbal. He could tell me what hurt where, what didn’t feel right, and so on. As a teenager, he almost seems to have lost that
ability (unless it’s really, really bad). He’s cool, smooth, and nothing bothers him – and, of course, he knows more than me. I’m just a silly grown-up. So when I heard him wheeze the other day,
and started grilling him on how long he had been wheezing, had he been using his inhaler, and, several times, why hadn’t he told me he was symptomatic so we could evaluate whether it was time to
get him back on maintenance meds? He just shrugged, “Mom, I’m fine.” Teenagers.

We’re extremely lucky that my son’s asthma is not as bad as it could be, but he still needs to be on maintenance meds about half the year. He has a food allergy, too, that he needs to make others
aware of at times. Have I managed his issues too well so he doesn’t take them seriously? Not well enough? I don’t know.

More time away from us

As our son has reached adolescence, he spends more time not in our direct presence. He’s at school or sports or a friend’s house – or we as parents are tending to his siblings. He necessarily must
take a little more ownership and responsibility for his health conditions; it’s part of growing up. But not actually acting responsibly with that ownership seems to be part of growing up, too, and
a very common issue in adolescents

Because we’ve been dealing with this for a while, he knows the routine. We know he knows – and he knows we know that he knows. So why does he dismiss symptoms, even ones he knows will just get
worse? It’s all about growing up and the necessary pushing away of the parents. Just with higher immediate consequences. At least he’s trying out this response when he knows there is still a safety
net to catch him.

The same yet different

As much as we have tried to downplay our son’s differences from his friends who don’t have such things to worry about, now may be the time to talk them up a bit. Sure he can do all the things his
peers can do – he just can’t do them without having an inhaler and his EpiPen nearby. I understand that he doesn’t want to be different from his friends – at all – but he is different in this way,
and he does need to come to terms with that. Difference is not such a bad thing, we tell him, and wouldn’t the world be boring if everyone were the same? He shrugs (predictably).

Adolescent testing – with bigger consequences

Mostly, I think this is just age-appropriate testing. Every kid will find a way to test and rebel agains their parents. For kids with chronic health conditions, it’s just a little more concerning to
the parents. Even if you are a proponent of letting kids learn by “natural consequences” the potential consequences of letting this go too far are just a little too high!

If he continues on this trying to ignore symptoms route, pulling back on freedoms and privileges is completely appropriate, I think. He wants to have his freedom, but he must show us he can be
responsible with that freedom, especially when it impacts his overall health.

We also need to say again and again how important his health – his life – is to us, and how much we love him and want him to be around. Because we do. At some point I’m going to have to let go
completely. I am fairly confident that when it’s time to do that, our son will step up and manage his issues with confidence. But he’s still a kid and we’re still the parents – and thank goodness
this (and adolescence!) is a process.

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