How involved should my teenagers be in my care?

In general, children like to help their parents. When it comes to caring for you at home, though, how much should your teenagers be expected to help? The answer depends on the age of your teens, and on your relationship with them.

Deciding to involve your teenagers

Teenagers can and will help, even though they might complain about it. Here are some ways to involve your older children with your care:

  • Ask your children how much they want to be involved. Find out which tasks would be the most comfortable for them – including chores that would help the whole family, and not just you. Let your teens make some of the choices.
  • An older teenager might want to help in ways that show her maturity, like driving to the store, or bringing younger children to school.
  • Teens need a balance between spending time with you, and being involved in their usual activities with friends, sports, and school. Make sure that they have regular breaks from your illness.
  • Some teens are too upset or overwhelmed to help care for a parent. If this is the case in your home, try to find other ways in which your teens can lend a hand.
  • If your teen is the person who assists you the most, try to give him tasks that he can do without too much difficulty. Let him know how much his help means to you.
  • If English isn’t your first language, don’t take it for granted that your teenager wants to translate for you and your health care team, or speak for you during phone calls between you and your doctors. Don’t be afraid to ask for an interpreter: Your treatment team should be able to offer one if you need it. Your treatment team may also be able to use special cards that have information printed on them in your language and in English.


Common reactions

The following reactions are common for teenagers who have a parent with cancer:

  • Teenagers may be “grossed out” or embarrassed by some of the changes in your body, or by the routines and tasks that go along with your cancer treatment. They may not want other people to know about these issues.
  • Teens may resent giving up time with their friends to help the family, especially if they’re already used to having more freedom.
  • Some teenagers may feel that it’s their job to be involved in your care, even if you don’t want or need their help. In some families or cultures, for example, teenage girls are expected to take care of their sick parents. You may have to encourage your teens to spend some time on their own activities, outside the home.
  • Many teens will feel caught between living their own lives, helping you at home, and needing help from you (or another adult) with their own everyday problems. Even though you might rely on your teens a lot right now, remind yourself that they’re still children. Try to save any really-tough issues for the adults in your life who provide support.


American Cancer Society. (2005). Helping children when a family member has

Blum, D. CancerCare Connect. (2005) Helping children when a family member has cancer. Retrieved 6/30/08 from

Harpham, W. (1997). When a parent has cancer: a guide to caring for your children. New York: HarperCollins.

National Cancer Institute (n.d.) When someone in your family has cancer. Retrieved 7/1/08 from