Raising a teenager is a challenging and bewildering job under the best of circumstances. The task becomes even more complex when one of the parents is also struggling to make sense of Parkinson’s disease. The key to managing life as a parent with Parkinson’s is learning to recognize your teenager’s developmental needs then putting strategies in place for meeting them.
First, remember that the ability to think critically begins to develop early in adolescence, adding abstract thought to the concrete cognitive style already in place. Subsequently, most teens have a pretty solid nonsense detector. Even young teens appreciate honesty and the respect of being told the truth. Down-playing Parkinson’s and its potential courses is likely to be perceived as lack of trust at best and talking down to them as if they were children. Talk frankly about your illness and its challenges. Answer any questions your teen might have. When you don’t have an answer, go online together to find out the information and discuss what you have learned.
Second, do not make Parkinson’s an additional child. When a chronic disease like PD appears, it is hard not to focus tremendous amounts of time and attention on the physical and emotional challenges. This time and attention can easily come at the expense of your teen. They may never tell you they feel this is happening but rest assured, it is happening. Remember that your disease increases the risk that your child will experience depression and a stalled transition to adulthood. This is not to make anyone feel guilty, it is simply the reality of PD. It can be too easy to look at the emerging adult and incorrectly assume she or he is navigating the process well. Your teen needs attention, guidance, support and love whether you have PD or not. Those four essentials can make all the difference between a teen launching successfully into adulthood or floundering helplessly. Your child cannot compete against the attention you devote to the PD unless you make a calculated effort to bring balance to this situation. Talk to your teen about his or her daily life and what it is like being partway into adulthood.
Third, do not turn your adolescent into a care partner. This is a special irreplaceable time. The world will make enough demands on your teen soon enough, try not to be part of rushing this process. Every teen should have routine home chores and helping you can be one of them. This help should not come at the expense of the things that make adolescence special- sports, extra-curricular activities, dating, proms, volunteer activities and just hanging out. Encourage your teen to take part in these opportunities. He or she is going to want to help you but make sure they know that you are not helpless. Discuss how to strike a balance between their perceived duty and their own needs.
It is a rare parent who does not want what is best for their child. PD throws the needs of a family into turmoil and it becomes necessary to think about how your teen’s welfare and your own health can best be managed. Open communication is the key but open communication begins when you take stock of what PD is doing to your family. This blog is not meant to instill guilt. Rather it is to initiate a process that will allow you to keep PD from taking something precious from you and your family.