The Role of Teens in their Health Care Decisions


Treat your teen like an adult and really explain the disease to them and what it means to them,” says Dr. Leonard Sender, CHOC’s director of the Adolescent and Young Adult program. Include your teen in discussions about his case with the doctors and health care providers, he adds. “We don’t want to dictate to them what happens. We want to educate them so they know what they need to know to make a decision. Be 100 percent honest and don’t hide the truth. I believe in total transparency. Get them engaged in what we are doing. Get them to own it. It’s their body.”


Many teens are able to manage much of their own health care, from giving themselves injections to taking medications, says Dr. Sender. They can speak to their physician on their own and research their condition online or visit CHOC’s Hope Resource Room and explore the many educational resources available so they feel knowledgeable and empowered.


It’s important for parents of adolescent patients with serious or chronic illnesses to keep up a normal routine at home as much as possible, says Dr. Sender. He offered some tips for parents and families:

  • Don’t let the teen’s illness or disease “own their lives” and change their normal relationships with their families and peers.
  • Understand the teen’s emerging autonomy and don’t “micro-manage” the teen.
  • Encourage the teen to go to school (if possible) and keep up his or her relationships with classmates, teachers and peers. These relationships are important to teens who can feel isolated when hospitalized.

Meet Dr. Sender - CHOC Cancer Specialist

Dr. Leonard Sender is the medical director at the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s and director of cinical operations and program development at the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center at UC Irvine Medical Center. He also oversees CHOC’s Adolescent and Young Adult Program. Dr. Sender completed his internship and residency in pediatrics at UC Irvine Medical Center and had a fellowship in pediatric hematology/oncology at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Dr. Sender serves as board chairman of the “Stupid Cancer” Foundation and is a founding member and chairman of, an adolescent cancer advocacy organization.

Dr. Sender’s philosophy of care: “I take a patient-centric approach and treat young patients as people while understanding the context in which they get cancer. My goals are to cure the cancer and achieve a meaningful survivorship.”

Medical school at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa

Pediatric Hematology/Oncology

Dr. Leonard Sender

CHOC Radio Podcast: Living With Chronic Illness

Three teens in the Seacrest Studio for podcast

Growing up is tough enough for teens and young adults, but living with a chronic disease adds even more complications, a panel of CHOC Children’s patients tell CHOC Radio.

In podcast No. 22, Cody, 23; Megan, 17; and Cole, 14 discuss aspects of life with a chronic illness.

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