While at a conference this weekend I spoke with a mother about her daughter’s diagnosis. Her daughter is 15 years old and is facing a lifetime with an autoimmune disease. I don’t know about you but I can think of plenty of other things I’d rather be doing then thinking about an illness. Isn’t it hard enough being a teenager without the obstacles of illness? There are so many developmental milestones that one achieves in their teens and I don’t believe that treatment regimens is one of them.
Let’s look at the reality of the situation. Teens are self-conscious about their looks, their friends, their activities and throwing a health challenge in the mix escalates their issues. Everyone is trying to be cool (if they even still use that word) and last I heard illness isn’t cool. Friends and dating become the center of one’s rite of passage to adulthood but self-doubt and isolation may be the result of an illness diagnosis.
I know that we can’t discuss fairness. I am just highlighting this stage of life because by nature it’s filled with strife. Of course no one should get ill, but it happens. It makes these kids (they’re kids to me) face realities that many adults don’t even want to face; and yet most teens do it with grace and courage.
I guess what I’m saying is that if you meet a teen that has a health challenge, give them a little extra support. Find ways to be emotionally available to them. Remember what being a teenager was like and then throw a health challenge in the mix and figure out how you would have coped; maybe you will have an insight you can share. Try and understand chaos theory because that’s at the root of a teenager with a health challenge. The truth is, just be you. Be present. Be real. Don’t try and take over their lives; they have to find their own north star and navigate to safety. It is possible for you to be part of their navigation strategy, but teenagers are resilient and they will find a way to make it work.