The balancing act

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This page describes how to balance helping your teenager while being respectful of their abilities and independence.

Key points

  • If your teen has a JIA flare-up, find a balance between giving them special attention and letting them live life to the fullest.
  • Help your teenager learn how to balance their need for independence with managing JIA.
  • Maintain rules at home while allowing your teenager to take on some responsibility.

The teen years can become even more difficult when your teenager has a chronic illness like JIA. It is challenging because you want to step in and help. Consider how you can be helpful in ways that are respectful of your teenager's abilities.

Try to balance your teenager’s growing need for independence and managing JIA symptoms. If your teenager has a flare-up, find the balance between giving your teenager extra attention because of their pain versus pushing them to live life to its fullest despite pain. For example, sometimes you may want to let them stay home from school when they are in pain. Other times, it may make more sense to encourage them to attend half a school day and get notes from friends for the missed time. Help your teenager learn how to balance their need for independence with managing JIA.

Here are some more helpful tips:

Get support!

Parenting a teenager can be very challenging. Talk with your partner and other parents to get ideas and support. You and your partner should be ‘on the same page’ when it comes to parenting your teenager. Differences in opinions between you and your partner will come up. It is important to discuss these issues privately. You need to provide a united front when dealing with your teenager.

Think of the adult your teenager will become

Consider what kind of an adult you want your teenager to be. Use these goals to help guide your decisions. For example, if you want your teenager to become an independent and responsible adult, give them lots of opportunities to take on responsibility. At first, they will need to be supervised, but after a while they will need little or no supervision. This will help them become more independent.

Set a good example for your teenager by taking proper care of your own health.

Revisit rules

Think about the rules in your home. If you have many rules, try to reduce them to a few. These rules will usually focus on your teenager’s safety and taking responsibility. In terms of safety, let them know they have to tell you where they are at all times and who they are with. Your teenager also needs to know they are responsible for any consequences of their own behaviour at home, at school and socially.

Let your teenager take on some responsibility

Consider what you do to help your teenager. Then think about ways you can gradually let them take on some of these tasks themselves. For example, if your teenager is unwell and thinks they need to see their doctor, tell them you trust their judgment and you think they are right. Then suggest that they call to make an appointment. Let them know you will drive them to the appointment and home again.

Another example is buying your teenager’s medication. Who takes in the prescription? Who pays for it and brings it home? Who keeps track of when it’s time to buy more? Perhaps you could go with your teenager to the pharmacy, and give them money or the insurance card so they can pick up the medication themselves.

Help your teenager strike a balance

Help your teenager learn to balance their activities to promote good health. Your teenager may want to participate in an activity. However, you may be concerned about how that activity might affect their health. Before you talk with them about it, think about what you will say and how you say it.

You may be concerned that if your teenager goes to a party or joins a sports team, they might have too much fatigue or joint pain afterward. Share your concerns in a calm, respectful manner. Encourage them to share their ideas on how to minimize potential problems. You could say “I’m worried that if you stay up late with your friends, then it will be hard for you to wake up and get to school on time the next day. I’m sure you’ve thought of this too. Do you have any ideas about getting to the party and not making the next morning so difficult?” Your teenager may come up with ideas on their own. For example, they may suggest taking a quick nap after school before going to the party. If your teenager knows that you are really listening and valuing their ideas, they will be more willing to listen to yours.

Everyone who lives with chronic illness needs to learn how to balance activities that can be draining in the short term, with activities that promote good health and self-care. Sometimes your teenager might decide that an activity is ‘worth the price’ they pay later in terms of an increase in JIA symptoms. For example, they might decide to go on a one-day shopping trip with friends, even though they know they’ll be stiff, sore and exhausted for a couple of days afterwards. As a parent, this can be very hard to watch. You may feel compelled to intervene. Try to remember decisions you made as a teenager that your parents didn’t agree with. Remember what you learned from those situations.

If a teenager doesn’t push themselves, they won’t know what their limits are. They will never know what they are capable of. We all need to make mistakes and learn the hard way sometimes! And sometimes, an activity will be ‘worth it’ for your teenager.

Last updated: January 31st 2017