Hey, I want to be me!

By Kenneth Weene, Author, Phoenix, Arizona USA

“Oh, my God, my baby!” What mother doesn’t respond that way when she hears her teenager faces a dreadful illness?

“We’ll fight it!” What father doesn’t respond with anger and a readiness to do battle for his child?

These are only natural responses. Immediately parents want to protect their children, to take care of them, to make them well. But what about the child? Especially, what about that adolescent child? Of course they want to get well. Of course they want to have their parents’ support.

BUT – they also want to continue their own lives. Unlike younger children who, while hating being in the hospital, can enjoy being taken care of, can relish the attention and even the opportunity to make new friends in the ward and the outpatient offices, teenagers have a major agenda that dominates their lives – individuation and self-definition. Adolescence is a time of disconnection from parents and denial of dependence on them. It is a period when friends are all-important and separation from them seems impossible. It is a phase of intense identification with teams, heroes, activities, aspirations, and causes; wearing the uniform, taking part in the rituals, and being active in the group are so important.

Suddenly being deprived of adolescence by illness and the need for medical treatment, many young people become angry, and that anger is directed at Mom and Dad. After all, who is telling her that she can’t go out dating and absolutely mustn’t try those rebellious behaviors? Who is telling him that he can’t take that trip with the other kids or play that sport in his “condition”?

The need to “Hey, I got to be me” may lead to a teen saying, “I don’t care if I die, I just want to…” And at that moment the youngster means it – truly means it.

Finding a rational compromise between medical necessity and allowing the adolescent to continue personal growth is no easy task. There are, however, a few suggestions I can make:

  • Before you say “NO”, check with the medical pro. Is it your fear or reality speaking? If possible, have your child be part of that discussion. That way if the answer is really no, the youngster doesn’t see it coming from you.
  • Fight for you youngster’s right to wear clothing and styles of their choice. Most medical settings understand that, but in case they don’t be on the kid’s side. Does a little inconvenience for the nursing staff outweigh your child’s right to have an identity? Which also means you should advocate for a regimen that is consistent with your youngster’s needs not lobby the youngster to accept the medical. For example, hospital food, bed and rising times, and room décor: in all these areas be supportive of the kid.
  • Figure out as many ways as possible to keep your child in the loop with their current activities. Make sure, for example, if he can’t go to that football game – let alone play in it – that he has a good DVD of the game to watch as quickly as possible. Beg, borrow, or steal that video camera, ask one of his friends to do the filming, tell him to include crowd reactions. Sure it will upset, but it will also allow him to feel part of the action.
  • Do everything in your power to keep a reasonable flow of your child’s friends (and adult contacts) in their life. Yes, that includes that boy, the one she “loves” and about whom you are sure you would die if they were ever actually to marry.
  • Try to find loopholes where your child can sneak a little, get away with something they aren’t supposed to do. When you find those loopholes, don’t close them all. Leave the kid some room to rebel.
  • Don’t turn your child’s identity into “Patient.” Better that the weepy aunt be kept at bay while that cousin who’ll bring his buddies to play poker is encouraged to visit. That girl who’ll share doing manicures and pedicures or who’ll bring catalogs of clothes to discuss is far more important than the minister who’ll pray for her.

When we pray for the sick teen, we must remember to ask not simply that they recover from the illness but also that they recover from being a patient. Just as we should be working to help them beat that cancer, we must be working to help them become themselves.

Kenneth Weene, Author, Phoenix, Arizona USA

A New Englander by upbringing and inclination, Kenneth Weene is a teacher, psychologist and pastoral counselor by education. During a long career he worked primarily with children and families, including many youngsters with serious physical issues and illnesses.

Ken is also a writer. His short stories and poetry have appeared in numerous publications including Sol Spirits, Palo Verde Pages, Vox Poetica Clutching at Straws, The Word Place, Legendary, Sex and Murder Magazine, The New Flesh Magazine, The Santa Fe Literary Review, Daily Flashes of Erotica Quarterly, Bewildering Stories, A Word With You Press, Mirror Dance, and The Aurorean.

Ken’s novels, Widow’s Walk in particular draws on his experience working with a young man with a severe medical issue and with his family.

For Widow’s Walk in particular, click on