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When Your Teen Needs a Test, Procedure, or Surgery

(Ages 12 to 18 years)

Both you and your teen are likely anxious and upset by what's happening. Being prepared for the test or procedure will help both of you stay calm. Understanding the procedure will help you to be supportive when your teen needs you.

What your teen understands

During the teen years, abstract thinking starts. Your teen can fully understand how parts of the body work, the health problem he or she has, and the reason for the test, procedure, or surgery. Common fears include:

  • Fear of waking during the procedure

  • Fear of pain

  • Fear of possibly dying

It's important to let your teen know that these fears are normal. Encourage your teen to talk about his or her fears and to share them with the healthcare provider or others on the healthcare team.

Teens also have a heightened sense of body image. They may worry about the effects of illness and treatment, such as surgical scars, on their appearance. At this age, they are more self-conscious and worried about how their peers view them.

Prepare ahead of time to help make the visit to the healthcare provider or hospital less frightening. Studies have shown that teens who are prepared have less anxiety about their treatment than teens who are not prepared.

Other suggestions to ease the way:

  • Tell your teen that friends and family can visit if he or she is in the hospital or at home recuperating from a procedure. Peers are very important to this age group. But teens also have a need for privacy, so let your teen decide which friends and family should know.

  • Be aware that although teens are better able to understand illness and treatment than younger children, they generally think that they are safe from sickness or disease. Needing medical care can disturb their sense of safety.

  • Be patient with your teen. The need for medical treatment challenges his or her age-appropriate need for independence, privacy, and control. This could lead to feelings of anger or helplessness.

  • Answer his or her questions the best you can. Use online resources, as well as books from the library or bookstore, to arm you with facts, and share these resources with your teen.

  • Arrange for your teen to ask the healthcare provider questions at appointments, by phone, or through email, if appropriate. Encourage your teen to be part of the decision-making process.

Helping your teen cope

Teens can benefit from relaxation techniques online or through CDs, DVDs, or on site classes. Some of these techniques include:

  • Meditation

  • Controlled breathing

  • Yoga

  • Tai chi

  • Positive visualization or imaging

Relaxation techniques are done along with:

  • Eating right

  • Getting enough sleep

  • Exercising

  • Getting support from family and friends.

But sometimes these aren't enough. Some teens have anger or depression and feel out of control. Separation from friends, school, and other activities, as well as the need to depend on others for care, can be hard changes. If your teen shows ongoing anger or depression, or feels isolated or lonely, seek help. Here are some suggestions:

  • Peer counseling often works well with a teen as a first step if symptoms are mild. Sometimes, it can be most helpful to talk with someone who knows what you are feeling. This can happen in person or by viewing peer-modeling DVDs.

  • A mental health provider such as a psychologist, social worker, or child psychiatrist could help a teen who has previously been treated for emotional or behavioral problems, or who has disabling levels of anxiety.

  • Encourage your teen to bring a few comfort items with them to the hospital. This might be their smartphone, a book, or a handheld video game device.

Questions to ask your child's healthcare provider

You are the most important member of your teen's healthcare team. No one knows your teen better than you! Let your teen's healthcare provider know that you want to be a part of the treatment process.

Here are questions to ask before the test, procedure, or surgery:

  • How long will the test, procedure, or surgery take?

  • What are the risks involved?

  • Will it be painful?

  • What outcomes have you seen with this medical condition?

  • Who else is involved? Can we meet the healthcare team?

  • What type of medical equipment will be used?

  • What does this equipment look, sound, and feel like?

  • Does my teen have to go without eating or drinking beforehand? If so, for how long?

  • Will my teen be awake for the procedure or surgery?

  • What should we expect just before the procedure?

  • What do you see as the parent's role?

  • Will I be allowed to be with my teen during and after the procedure or surgery?

  • How long will my teen have to stay in the hospital?

  • How many follow-up visits do you anticipate?

After the test, procedure, or surgery:

  • Did my teen have pain? If so, how long is it expected to last?

  • How is this discomfort or pain managed?

  • What medicines are being prescribed? What are the side effects?

  • If anesthesia was used, how long will it take to wear off?

  • How should I expect my teen to act now?

  • Do I have to restrict my teen in any way or prevent him or her from doing any activities?

  • How long can I anticipate until my teen is "back to normal?"

What to discuss with your teen

Here are suggestions on what to discuss with your teen and how:

  • Give your teen the choice of being part of the process and making decisions. Teens often are more cooperative when they have some control and are involved in the treatment plans as they unfold.

  • Be honest when discussing the medical treatment and any potential risks.

  • Use a calm, reassuring voice and be positive.

  • Show with your voice and body language that you have complete faith in your teen's healthcare provider and the rest of the healthcare team so that your teen feels confident, too.

Child life program

Many hospitals have child life programs. A child life specialist is usually part of the healthcare team. When working with you and your teen, this specialist can help you:

  • Understand the medical information presented to you so you have accurate descriptions of what will be done for your teen

  • Help your ability to support your teen, as well as help you and your family cope with and adjust to your teen's illness

  • Teach your teen distraction techniques

  • Decrease your teen's overall anxiety and perception of pain 

Online Medical Reviewer: Amy Finke RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Jonas DeMuro MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2018
© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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