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Parenting teens who face challenges


Having cancer or another serious illness can cause changes in your teen. They might have physical, emotional, or social changes that make them different from their friends and classmates. They might also experience changes in thinking, memory, and school performance. The changes might limit what your teen can do, or they might simply be changes from the way your teen was before. This article tells you about some limits that teens can face and how to help.

Physical changes

Physical changes can include:

  • Permanent hair loss.
  • Trouble doing physical tasks, from holding a pen to walking or driving a car.
  • Weight gain or loss.
  • Skin, vision, or hearing problems.
  • Growth problems – Your teen might grow and develop differently from others their age.

Your teen might also develop chronic pain or a condition such as diabetes.

Ways to help

Make sure your teen sees their doctors and other health care professionals regularly. Encourage your teen to have a healthy sleep schedule and make healthy choices such as eating a nutritious diet and exercising. Ask a member of the St. Jude team any questions you have about healthy sleep habits and other lifestyle choices.

Thinking, memory, and school performance

Illness and treatment can affect your teen’s ability to remember things, pay attention, and think or learn the same way as before. Their grades might be lower, or they might have trouble remembering, thinking, and concentrating.

Ways to help

Talk to your teen’s school counselor about an individualized education program (IEP) or 504 plan at school. These plans can help your teen succeed in school.

Find “brain training” apps your teen can use on their tablet or computer, if they have one. These can help their memory and attention.

Talk to a member of the St. Jude team if you are concerned that your teen might not make good decisions when they turn 18. The team can talk with you about the possible need for a legal guardian.

Emotional changes

Having a life-threatening illness can change your teen emotionally. They might seem more worried or sad than usual. Or they might seem to have low self-esteem, guilt, or negative thoughts about their body.

Ways to help

Have your teen talk with a school counselor or a licensed mental health care provider if they are willing. Your teen might also benefit from bonding with a mentor or having a healthy hobby. They might also feel better if they go to camps or groups with other teens who had similar experiences.

Social challenges

Being away from school can affect your teen’s friendships and social development. Encourage activities with friends and classmates. Specific training in social skills might help if you are concerned about how your teen is developing socially.

Getting help for yourself

As the parent of a teen facing challenges, you might feel guilty, isolated, worried or tired. It can be hard to try to help your child. If you have these feelings, consider talking with a licensed mental health care provider in your community. Or you might benefit from joining a support group of parents who are facing similar issues.

Also, it can help to remember that things do improve with time, as you gain more experience and a better perspective. Remember, you are not alone.


Please call the Psychology Clinic at 901-595-3581 if you have questions or concerns.

This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

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