Since your child's miraculous entry into the world, you've been responsible for most — if not all — of the decisions made regarding his or her health care. You scheduled the early-morning doctor's visits, arranged for X-rays and other diagnostic tests, ordered prescriptions from pharmacies, asked the right questions, and usually got the answers you needed.
As the parent of a preteen or a teen, your job's not over yet. But by now, your child is able to grasp medical concepts and understand the basics of managing his or her own health care. Experts say that now's the time to start including teens in health care decisions and let them take a more active role in managing their own care.
Time flies. Before you know it, your 13-year-old will be driving and your 16-year-old will be off at college. With adulthood just around the corner, there's no time like the present to begin encouraging teens to take on leadership roles in all aspects of everyday life — and health care is no exception.
By encouraging their participation (which can be as simple as calling in a prescription and picking it up at the pharmacy or as complex as helping choose a new care provider), you'll help your teens learn valuable lessons about planning in advance, making choices, and being held accountable for themselves. These are all skills that will aid them in adulthood.
As the parent of any preteen or teen knows, giving kids new responsibilities doesn't necessarily mean that they'll follow through on them. It's still up to you to encourage, remind, reinforce, and follow up on the responsibilities you've given your child.
As kids get older, it's especially important for those with chronic conditions, like asthma or diabetes, to become more knowledgeable about their illnesses and self-reliant when it comes to medical practices.
Kids with special needs and developmental disabilities can also learn to manage some (or many) aspects of their care. It often helps to get the green light first from a doctor, social worker, or other medical professional on how and when to begin transitioning your child into more independent living.
At around age 12:
At around age 14, in addition to the previous list, teens should:
At around age 17, in addition to the previous lists, teens should:
Kids with special needs or chronic conditions may need additional support to transition into adult-based health care. If your child has special health needs, consider contacting the local chapter of your child's diagnosis-specific group (for example, the National Association for Down Syndrome) to learn how other parents have helped their kids become more independent in adulthood.
Families who've already gone through this transition can offer a wealth of information, such as which doctors specialize in treating adults with special needs, what special services are available, and what programs to look into or avoid.
Another resource that might be helpful are family advocacy groups. Many dedicate themselves to helping families of kids with special health care needs. For example, the nationwide Family Voices organization has local chapters that can help families make informed decisions about health care for kids with special needs.
Now is also a good time to talk to a social worker in your area (who may be affiliated with your local hospital) to find out what federal or state-run programs your child might be eligible for in adulthood. In addition to health-related services, some of these offerings might include support for finding employment, housing, and transportation.
In some cases, you may be able to enroll your child (or at least get on the waiting list) in these programs now. Doing so might seem a bit premature, but can pay off later, when the need for services might be more immediate.
Whenever possible, involve your kids in making health care decisions. Though it might take some extra effort and a bit of patience on your part at first, your kids can become more independent when managing their own health care.
With you there to provide support and guidance along the way, your kids can take that first big leap into adulthood while still having you as a safety net.
Reviewed by: Cory Ellen Nourie, MSS, MLSP
Date reviewed: July 2012
|Family Voices This website brings together families who have children with special health needs.|
|Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services This website contains all the information you need to understand your health care.|
|Adolescent Health Transition Project This is a health and transition resource for adolescents with special health care needs, chronic illnesses, and physical or developmental disabilities.|
|Emergency Information Form for Children with Special Needs The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a form for all the vital information about the child's condition, and the doctors and other key contacts in case of an emergency. It's a good idea to post it near the phone, in the car, and in a prominent common area in the house.|
|InsureKidsNow.gov InsureKidsNow.gov provides information about Medicaid and CHIP services for families who need health insurance coverage.|
|Finding Your Way in the Health Care System It can be stressful when your child needs medical attention, and more so when you're worried about where to get that care and how much it will cost. Here are some basics on managing the health care system.|
|Your Medical Records Each time you hop up on a doctor's exam table, somebody makes a note in your medical records. There may come a time when you need your medical information, so find out how to get it and how it's protected.|
|Electronic Health Records Because EHRs improve how well your doctors talk to each other and coordinate your treatment, they can enhance your overall care. This article gives the facts on electronic health records.|
|Choosing Your Own Doctor We all deserve a doc who helps us feel comfortable and understood – and who can guide our medical care in a way we need. Get tips on finding the best doctor for you.|
|Going to the Doctor When you go to the doctor for a checkup, it's because your parents and your doctor want to see that you're growing just the way you should. Read all about what happens at the doctor's office.|
|Primary Care Doctors: Who's Who A primary care physician is your first stop for medical care. Find out more about the primary care doctors who treat teens.|
|Health Insurance Basics Taking charge of your own health care is a big step, and it can be a little overwhelming. Here's a quick crash course on insurance for teens.|
|Finding Low-Cost Medical Care If you need medical care but don't think you can afford it, you're not alone. Get tips on finding low-cost or free care in this article for teens.|
|Health Insurance: Cracking the Code Health insurance has a language all its own. This article for teens explains what some key terms mean.|
|Talking to Your Doctor Your best resource for health information and advice is your doctor - the person who knows you, your medical history, and accurate medical information to answer your questions.|
|Who's Who in the Hospital There are so many different medical specialties that it's easy to feel confused. Here's a guide to some of the experts who care for you in the hospital.|
|Talking to Your Child's Doctor Building a relationship with your child's doctor requires communication and reasonable expectations.|
|Helping Teens Take Charge of Their Health Care It's important for parents to guide teens toward managing their own health care. Here are some ways to get started.|
|Electronic Health Records Many health institutions digitally store their patients' health information. Learn about electronic health records (EHRs) and how they can improve health care.|
|Preparing Your Child for Visits to the Doctor When kids know they're "going to the doctor," many become worried about the visit. Here's how to help them.|
|How to Find Affordable Health Care Finding coverage for your kids may be difficult, but it's not impossible. Many kids are eligible for government or community programs, even if their parents work. Learn what resources are available to your family.|
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