Helping teenagers cope with tests and treatment (13 years and older)

Teenagers want to be independent of adults and they want to be like their friends. Illness, medical issues and treatment can make teenagers feel different when they are trying hard to fit in.

Before tests or treatment

Parents and caregivers can help children cope by preparing them and providing support. Teens may act like they don’t want you around at all, but they do need the security of knowing you are there, supporting them. Comfort your teen in ways that respect their growing independence – some still like to be hugged, some don’t.

It’s important to let teenagers be part of discussions and make as many decisions as possible. Give your teen time on their own with the healthcare team. They may not want to talk to you about how they feel – this is OK as long as they do share their feelings with someone. Parents and caregivers can help teenagers prepare for a test or treatment by trying the following:

  • Explain why the test or treatment is needed. The healthcare team can help with this explanation.
  • Give detailed information about the test or treatment. Explain the test or treatment using the correct medical terms. Describe what the teenager will see, feel, hear and even taste during the test or treatment, including any equipment that may be used.
  • Discuss any potential risks, particularly how their appearance, mental function and sexuality may be affected.
  • Encourage your teenager to ask questions and answer them as best you can.
  • Help them practise the positions or movements that they may need to do during the test or treatment.
  • Stress the benefits of the test or treatment and talk about things that the teenager may enjoy afterward.

During tests or treatment

The healthcare team will do what they can to make sure your teen is safe and comfortable. This may include using medicines to calm your teen and reduce pain. They will watch your teen for any problems and will use different machines to monitor their body functions (such as heart rate and breathing).

Some tips to help your teen cope during tests or treatment include:

  • Encourage your teenager to ask questions about the treatment or procedure and the equipment used.
  • Encourage your teen to try counting, deep breathing and thinking pleasant thoughts to help them stay calm.
  • Reduce pain or anxiety by offering a comforting touch. If it helps, you can hold their hand or rest your hand on their shoulder.
  • Let teens be active in social and school activities.
  • Tell teenagers that it is normal to worry about their illness and the procedure. Encourage them to talk to someone about anything that worries them.
  • Allow teenagers to do things that make them feel good about themselves. Remind them of their achievements and what they do well.
  • Give them privacy – they need to be able to get dressed or make calls to friends without being watched. Let them do things for themselves and make their own choices. It’s usually fine for them to wear their own clothes instead of hospital gowns.
  • Allow friends and siblings to visit or call. Allow them some private time.
  • Answer questions openly and honestly. Admit if you don’t know the answer to a question and follow through in getting the answer.
  • Encourage them to keep doing normal things.
  • Help your teen to plan for the future.
  • Reassure your teenager that together you can face anything and that you will manage this crisis together.
  • Don’t forget to have fun when you can and laugh about things when possible. Humour can be a great distraction.

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Children Diagnosed with Cancer: Dealing with Diagnosis. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society; 2012.
  • CancerNet. Preparing Your Child for Medical Procedures. American Society of Clinical Oncology; 2011.
  • Kline, N. E . Patient and Familiy Education. Kline, N. E. (Ed.). Essentials of Pediatric Oncology Nursing: A Core Curriculum. 2nd ed. Association of Pediatric Oncology Nurses; 2004: VIII: 230-238.
  • National Childhood Cancer Foundation & Children's Oncology Group. Family Handbook for Children with Cancer (Curesearch). 2nd ed. Bethesda, MD: 2012.
  • U. S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health . Adolescent test or procedure preparation. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health; 2012.
  • WebMD. Pediatric Preparation for Medical Tests - Preparing Your Child for a Medical Test. Healthwise, Incorporated;
  • Wilson, K . Supportive Care. Kline, N. E. (Ed.). Essentials of Pediatric Oncology Nursing: A Core Curriculum. 2nd ed. Association of Pediatric Oncology Nurses; 2004: VI: 170-190.

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

We do our best to make sure that the information we provide is accurate and reliable but cannot guarantee that it is error-free or complete.

The Canadian Cancer Society is not responsible for the quality of the information or services provided by other organizations and mentioned on, nor do we endorse any service, product, treatment or therapy.

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