Iris Mini: Parenting Through Cancer Ages 13-18

Cancer can elicit an emotional response from the entire family. Teens can especially benefit from support and conversations about a parent’s diagnosis and treatment, though many families struggle with how to communicate with their teen during this time. There is no one way to parent through the cancer experience and everyone approaches it differently. You know your teen best.

Chances are you and your family have had to find ways to cope through difficult times in the past. You may be able to draw from those experiences as you and your teen navigate a parent’s cancer. The chart below may help you understand a typical teen's knowledge and responses so you can further support them.

Development & Understanding of Cancer

Teen's Response/ Behaviors

Tips To Support Teens

- Can fully understand cancer biology and facts

- May desire independence

- Encourage communication and additional support from peers and teachers

- Able to understand the relationship between treatment and side effects

- May express feelings of anger or rebellion

- Provide space for physical and emotional expressions of care and concern

- Have the capacity to think about and understand things they have not experienced directly

- May be vulnerable to depression or anxiety

- Model sharing emotions and discuss any concerns around role changes within the family

- Have capacity to understand life- threatening illness

- May withdraw from parents or support system

- Provide access to a therapist, as well as other support resources if needed

- Experience growing empathy

- May lean more closely on peers and friends

- Consider conversation settings that are more comfortable for teens (examples: during a walk, at dinner, short car ride, etc.)

- Understand the impact on their parent but may focus more on peer relationships and sense of self even when family events impact them

- May internalize feelings

- Do more frequent short check-ins rather than longer, formal conversations to keep teens in the loop

- May have a growing sense of responsibility in the family and may benefit from involvement as a part of the parent support system

- May show concerning behavior changes as they cope such as dropping grades and a lack of participation in school or with friends

- Support may be better received from other relationships such as teachers, counselors, etc.



- Reassure teens that you will always be honest with them



- Consider seeking help if your teen seems depressed, anxious, or is not willing to open up to you, or if any changes in behavior are severe, impact functioning, or last for an extended period with no improvement



- Attempt to maintain expectations at school, home, etc.

Your Iris mental health therapist is available for specific needs, parenting questions, or support for you and your family.

For Teens

My Parent Has Cancer and it Really Sucks by Marc Silver and Maya Silver, 2013, 261 pages

When Your Parent Has Cancer: A Guide for Teens - National Cancer Institute

For Parents

What Do I Tell the Kids? (video - Cancer Support Community)

When a Parent Has Cancer: A Guide to Caring for Your Children by Wendy Schlessel Harpham, 2004, 198 pages

How to Help Children Through a Parents Serious Illness: Supportive, Practical Advice from a Leading Life Specialist by Kathleen McCue and Ron Bonn, 2011, 368 pages

Raising An Emotionally Healthy Child When a Parent is Sick by Paul K. Rauch and Anna C. Muriel MD, MPH, 2006, 240 pages