Teens are not as healthcare independent as their parents think

July 23, 2019
Catherine Radwan
Catherine Radwan

Parents not be doing enough when it comes to supporting adolescents’ grasp of personal healthcare and well-being.

Results of a

just released by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, the University of Michigan Department of Pediatrics, and the University of Michigan Susan B. Meister Child Health Evaluation and Research (CHEAR) Center, Ann Arbor, show that most parents agree it’s important to prepare their teenagers for independence as an adult, but parents may be overestimating their efforts to promote teenagers’ independence, especially when it comes to tasks related to healthcare.

Researchers interviewed a national sample of 2032 parents of adolescents aged 14 to 18 years about the parents’ efforts to support their children’s independence.

The Mott poll demonstrates that for tasks important to independence among teenagers, parents rate their teenagers’ preparedness quite differently. Most parents say their older adolescents handle school matters effectively, such as keeping track of assignments (83%) and study time (83%). Fewer parents are sure of their teenagers’ ability to handle money matters, such as earning money for extras (63%) and saving for future goals (46%). As for personal well-being, parents say their older teenagers get enough exercise (74%) and sleep (65%), deal with stress (48%), and eat healthy foods (41%). However, parents rate their teenagers’ as least able to handle basic, personal healthcare matters independently, such as dealing with minor emergencies (49%), taking the correct dose of medicine (25%), or making a doctor’s appointment (8%).

Twenty-five percent of parents say they themselves are the main barrier to their teenagers’ independence because they do not take the adequate time or make efforts to promote responsibility among their children and it being easier to handle some matters themselves (19%), although nearly all parents (97%) report using at least 1 strategy to encourage their teenagers to make wise choices (86%) and handle certain matters independently (74%). In addition, nearly all parents (95%) agree that it is important that teenagers have opportunities to make mistakes, but also agree that they should protect their children from making mistakes that are too serious or that could be harmful in the long term (86%).

As teenagers transition to young adulthood, parents must help them gain the knowledge to make decisions that affect their personal lives and well-being, especially for those decisions regarding healthcare, according to the Mott poll. Parents may be hesitant to push adolescents to make decisions about their own care when they are ill and instead take over medical decision-making to ensure their teenager receives appropriate care. However, the better approach is for the parent to be a backup resource who can step in only if the adolescent cannot handle the care decision independently.

The Mott poll advises parents to create regular opportunities to mentor and encourage their teenagers to get involved in medical decision-making while their children are still at home. Such an approach provides teenagers with a safe learning environment to accumulate knowledge and skills for the future with the guidance and support of parents as needed.