There is a Role for Everyone in Supporting Teens in the Hospital
Hospitals are unfamiliar places where adolescent (teen) patients get a crash course in adult life. Teens can learn about themselves and others, develop relationships with caretakers outside of their parents, and develop coping strategies that can stay with them for the rest of their lives. A productive medical environment promotes independence, privacy, and social interaction (whether online, in person or with visits).
Unit nurses and child life specialists play an integral role in promoting patient adherence, autonomy, and comfort throughout their stay. Providing options for teens to engage in activities outside of their medical care can play a major role in self-esteem and independence.
Considerations for working with Teens in Hospitals
Teens do not have the same feelings and needs as the adults around them. Talk to them, be authentic, and listen to learn what their needs are.
Building rapport is an important step in gaining trust with teens. It’s also a great way to get them talking about their lives, learning about their fears and concerns, and opening up an opportunity for a productive relationship. (Read more on building rapport here).
Teens may seek significant alone time.
As adults, we have to remember that our current perceptions do not match that of a teen. Rather than using judgment when approaching something you’re uncomfortable with, try using curiosity to steer the conversation.
Teens may show regressive behaviors when hospitalized.
Teenagers who tend to be “all-stars” in school and “social butterflies” may start asking for more help than usual when hospitalized. When parents see their teens start to exhibit some of these regressive behaviors, they may feel unsettled. While some regression is normal and sometimes imminent given the diagnosis, remaining calm and compassionate to their behaviors can enhance the relationship.
Rather than being distracted during procedures, they may prefer to sit in silence.
Promoting opportunities for choice and control is an important part of including teens in the care plan. Some healthcare workers may be used to distraction methods for younger children during painful procedures. While this method can still work, some teens prefer calming music, silence, wet cloth over their forehead, and more subtle methods of coping when in pain or discomfort.
Give them an opportunity to understand what’s happening.
Adolescents may be uncomfortable if they feel like they don’t know exactly what’s happening around them, which is common during hospitalization. They may need some time alone to process information before making decisions. If you feel like they’re working it out, give them some time alone.
Being on their phone is okay.
As a child life specialist, if I walk into a room and see a teen on their phone, I do not try to get them to put it down. I validate that they are busy and tell them I will come back and visit at a later time. Removing something that the teen feels comfortable with is more detrimental to a relationship as opposed to validating what you see they are doing.
What Expressive Therapies Help Teens in the Hospitals?
What Is Music Therapy?
Music therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses music to help children, teens and adults cope with challenging live events and some mental health disorders. It can be used as an intervention for children, adolescents, and adults who have emotional or behavioral problems, such as anxiety, depression, autism spectrum disorders (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Music therapy is used in hospitals, schools, daycare centers, nursing homes, rehabilitation clinics, mental health facilities, and other settings. Listen to more about how music therapy is used in hospitals here.
What is Art therapy?
Art Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses the creative process to help people explore and express their feelings, thoughts, memories, dreams, fantasies, or other aspects of themselves. It can be used as an adjunct to talk therapy, or it may be used on its own. The goal of art therapy is to enhance self-awareness, communication skills, creativity, and interpersonal relationships.
What is Pet Therapy?
Pet therapy is a type of animal-assisted intervention (AAI) that involves the use of animals to provide therapeutic services for people with mental health problems. It has been used in various settings, including hospitals, schools, and community centers.
Trainings & Education for Staff
Your child life team can help provide more information about some of the opportunities to support teens and adolescents in the hospital. Here are a few podcast episodes that feature teen stories that are also helpful for learning more about the hospital experience as an adolescent.
Dr. Hina Talib, MD
Dr. Hina Talib, MD (She/Her) is a board certified Pediatrician and Adolescent Medicine specialist, writer, and teen media creative based in New York City and Bridgehampton. She cares for teens & families at her new practice within the Atria Institute. She is the co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer of Thread Health, the first digital health service bringing skilled adolescent health care into the hands of teens and their families. Her clinical focus includes all things teen health, mental health, wellness and gynecology. Dr. Talib is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Obstetrics and Gynecology & Women’s Health at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, where she worked for 11 years in Bronx, NY until 2022. Building on her passion as an educator, she directed the Adolescent Medicine fellowship training program at Montefiore, training future teen health experts from 2015-2022. Dr. Talib edited a textbook Adolescent Gynecology in 2018 and has published research in the field.