Preparing the Teenager for Surgery

What part about surgery is most stressful for a teenager?

Adolescents like to be active participants in deciding what happens to them, including the kind of care they receive. Parents need to act as partners with their teens in making health care decisions.

Doctor talking to teen girl and parent

Recognizing the fears that teenagers commonly have when going to a hospital will help you in your preparations. Common fears and concerns may include the following:

  • Loss of control

  • Being away from school and friends

  • Having a part of his or her body damaged or changed in appearance

  • Fear of surgery and its risks

  • Pain

  • Dying during surgery

  • Fear of the unknown

  • Fear of what others will think about them being sick or in the hospital

How do I prepare my teenager for surgery?

The following suggestions will help you prepare:

  • Allow your teen to be part of the decision-making process. Encourage him or her to make a list of questions to ask the physicians and nurses.

  • Your teen should start learning and preparing as soon as the decision to have surgery is made. Reading books and using the Internet are good places to start.

  • Child life specialists can provide age-appropriate explanations and assist teens in finding a variety of resources.

  • Teenagers are often reluctant to admit that they do not understand explanations. Parents and healthcare professionals may need to explain treatment in several different ways, without making the teen feel uncomfortable.

  • Ask friends from school to send cards or call during recovery.

  • Your teen may find it helpful to write down his or her thoughts and feelings in a special notebook or journal.

  • Encourage your teen to pick out and bring a few comfort items from home, such as books, hand-held video games, a laptop computer (if there is Internet access available), or an iPod and headphones.

  • During hospitalization, your teen may go through frequent mood swings. It is important to be patient and understanding. Your teen can become withdrawn and not want to talk or answer questions. There are times when he or she may need to be alone.

  • Let your teen know that it is acceptable to be afraid and to cry. He or she might need to know you have the same worries he or she does. Reassure him or her of your support.

  • Learn as much as you can about your teen's condition. Teens can tell when their parents are worried. The more you know, the better you will feel, and you will be able to help explain things.

  • Be truthful when answering questions. Teenagers may become angry if they think people are keeping secrets from them. They need to understand what is wrong with their body. How the information is given is often as important as what information is given.

  • Privacy is very much a need of your teenager. Teens are often as private about their thoughts and feelings as they are about their bodies. It is necessary to always respect their privacy.

Helpful books for teens and parents

Sharon Carter and Judy Monnig. 1987. Coping With A Hospital Stay. Rosen Publishing Group.

A. J. Hill. 1999. The Patients Guide To Anesthesia. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp.

Theodore Tyberg and Kenneth Rothaus. 1995. Hospital Smarts. New York: Hearst Books.