From the minute we become parents, we are fierce protectors of our children’s health and well-being. Over the years we teach them such life-long positive behaviors as washing hands, healthy eating, wearing seat belts and safe driving. Our goal is to raise responsible, independent individuals who make good decisions, take care of themselves and navigate their own healthcare.
But when do we really teach them to handle their own healthcare? We schedule the doctor visits and, until they don’t want you in the room anymore, we’re also the ones who relay our child’s symptoms during the appointment.
When our children go off to college, we make sure they have their health insurance card, but we probably focus more on buying items for their dorm room than finding out if they know when to use the health service and what to say when they get there.
8 Things All Teens Need to Learn to Take Care of Their Health
1. If your children are able to complain about pain, they’re old enough to engage in the process of getting to know how they feel, what’s normal for them, and what health changes they may be feeling. Asking questions like “How is this pain different from how you usually feel? How long have you felt this way?”” are good ways to start.
2. Teach the “2 Week Rule” – If any subtle health changes last longer than two weeks, it’s time to call a doctor.
3. Keeping track of health changes on their phone and making a list of questions before the appointment may make it easier to ensure that important information is relayed.
4. Stress that there’s no such thing as TMI – doctors have heard and seen it all.
5. Rehearse how to make a doctor appointment and relay symptoms.
6. Give your older children the confidence to partner with their doctor by sharing information and asking questions. Their voice is critical to getting the right care. Emphasize that the more they say, the better, and that the doctor depends on them to help him/her make a diagnosis.
7. If their doctor gives them a treatment plan, they should always ask when they can expect to feel better and what to do if they don’t. If their doctor says they’re healthy but they know they’re not feeling well, ask the same question.
8. Make sure they know that if symptoms persist, follow-up. And, if they’re not getting anywhere with that doctor, or if the doctor doesn’t seem to be taking your child seriously, it’s time to go somewhere else.
We’re so involved in our children’s lives, but seem to fall short when it comes to teaching them how to be involved in their own health. The reason, I believe, is that many parents may not know how because they weren’t taught either, and, therefore, don’t do it themselves.
I direct a nonprofit that teaches people how to actively participate in their own healthcare so that they may benefit from the best medicine we have for any significant health issue: early detection. Learning how to recognize important subtle, yet persistent, health changes that could be early warning signs of illness, like cancer, and to be a strong self-advocate with medical professionals, can help save your life. Teaching your child to do the same can help them save their own lives too.
We’ve seen that early detection is the best medicine for cancer, when there are more treatment options and chances for better outcomes, a message we champion through education workshops thousands of students, employees, and other community members each year.
We teach participants that doctors have the medical knowledge, but only they know how they feel. And we emphasize the importance of being tuned into what their body’s telling them and sharing this information with their doctor. We’ve learned how many people are uncomfortable with this role for a variety of reasons, including fear, embarrassment, worry about being judged, and authority issues. Or, they simply never knew how.
These factors may spill over into our ability to talk to our children about taking charge of their health. But it’s time parents added this potentially life-saving topic to the other frank conversations they have with their children about health and safety practices.
Giving your children the tools early on to pay attention to their own health and to effectively use that information with doctors can be life-saving. Because of diligent parent training, practices like wearing a seat belt and driving safely have hopefully become second nature to our children. Let’s work to make sure this training does too.
Tricia Scannell Laursen is the executive director for 15-40 Connection, a nonprofit organization that teaching people how to detect cancer early. She is a big picture thinker who is also able to execute on details. A strong leader and problem solver with proven inter-personal skills, she has diverse experience developing both strategic and tactical plans to achieve specific goals. Her career spans more than 20 years of leadership roles in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. Tricia completed her Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing at Bentley University and her Master of Business Administration at Clark University.