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When Your Teen Needs a Test, Procedure, or Surgery

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 adolescent years, abstract thinking begins and your teen can fully understand how parts of the body function, the medical problem he or she is experiencing, 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 health care provider or others on the health care team.

Teen talking with doctor

Teenagers 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 doctor or hospital less frightening. Studies have shown that teenagers who are prepared experience less anxiety about their medical treatment than teens who are not prepared.

Other suggestions to ease the way:

  • Tell your teen that friends and family are allowed to visit if he or she is hospitalized or at home recuperating from a procedure. Peers are extremely important to this age group. But teens also have a need for privacy, so allow your teen to 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 experiencing sickness or disease. Needing medical care can disturb their sense of safety.

  • Be patient with your teenager. 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 to the best of your ability. Use online resources, as well as books from the library or bookstore, to arm you with explanations, and share these resources with your teen.

  • Arrange for your teen to ask the doctor questions at appointments, by phone, or through email, if appropriate.

Helping your teen cope

Teenagers can benefit from relaxation techniques through CDs, DVDs, or onsite classes. Some of these techniques include:

  • Meditation

  • Controlled breathing

  • Yoga

  • Tai chi

  • Positive visualization or imaging

Relaxation techniques are done in conjunction with:

  • Eating right

  • Getting enough sleep

  • Exercising

  • Getting support from family and friends.

But, sometimes, these aren't enough. Some teenagers experience anger or depression and feelings of being out of control. Separation from friends, school, and extracurricular activities, as well as the need to depend on others for care, can be hard adjustments. If your teen exhibits ongoing anger or depression, or exhibits extreme feelings of isolation or loneliness, seek help. Here are some suggestions:

  • Peer counseling often works well with a teenager 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 occur in person or by viewing peer-modeling DVDs.

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

Questions to ask your child's health care provider

You are the most important member of your teen's health care team – because no one knows your teen better than you! Let your teen's health care 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 in addition to you is involved? Can we meet the health care 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 experience pain? If so, how long is it expected to last?

  • How is this discomfort or pain managed?

  • What medications 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 option 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 health care provider and the rest of the health care 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 health care 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

  • Enhance 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 

Reviewed Date: 11-02-2013


Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.