Preparing the Teenager for Surgery

Parents and guardians need to act as partners with their teens in making healthcare decisions, as teens like to be active participants in deciding what happens to them, including the kind of care they receive. Recognizing the fears that teenagers commonly have about surgery can be helpful when discussing an upcoming procedure. Common fears and concerns may include the following:

  • loss of control
  • being away from school and friends
  • having a part of his/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

Preparing for Surgery

It is important for caregivers to partner with their teens in the decision-making and preparation process for surgery.

  • Allow the 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.
  • Teens 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, but be certain to only use trusted, educational sites instead of message boards and video hosting sites. The patient’s doctor or one of our child life specialists may be able to provide a list of trusted internet resources specific to the patient’s surgery or procedure.
  • Child life specialists can provide age-appropriate explanations and assist teens in finding a variety of resources. At CHOC, our child life specialists take teens on special pre-surgery tours that help them understand what they will experience before, during and after surgery.
  • 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.
  • Teens may find it helpful to write down 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 or hand-held video games or MP3 players with headphones. These items are not allowed in the operating room.
  • Before, during and after surgery, the patient may go through frequent mood swings. It is important to be patient and understanding. Teens can also become withdrawn and not want to talk or answer questions. There are times when the patient may need to alone.
  • It is important for teens to know that it is acceptable to be afraid and to cry and that they can discuss how they feel with their family members, friends and healthcare team.

Preparation is Key

Caregivers can prepare themselves and the rest of the family by knowing:

  • As much as possible about the surgery. Teens can tell when adults are worried. The more the adults in the family know, the better they will feel. They will also be better able to explain what is happening to the patient and other children in the family.
  • The importance of simplifying. The patient’s immediate family should try to simplify life during this time and shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help from friends and extended family members. Remaining positive and unstressed can help reduce the child’s anxiety.
  • The patient’s school can be a great resource during stressful times. Teachers can be on the look out for changes in mood or behavior and offer encouragement and support to students who are under a great deal of stress. Teachers can also modify work assignments—in-class work and homework—so as to make school a little less difficult. Caregivers can also work with teachers and administrators to make special arrangements to get students back on track after surgery.
  • Privacy is a strong need for many teenagers. Teens are often as private about their thoughts and feelings as they are about their bodies. It is necessary to always respect their privacy.
  • The importance of being 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.

Did you know?

CHOC has a surgery guide for just for teens and young adults that provides guidance on asking questions, dealing with feelings and much more. Learn more with our Preparing for Surgery: A Guide for Teens and Young Adults.