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As teens grow, they need to prepare so that they get ready to be adults. They need to practice some of their own decisions. Usually they may start with small decisions, like what to wear or what to eat for dinner. Other later decisions might be bigger, such as choosing where to live or where to work.
Parents or caregivers have been in charge of their children’s healthcare decisions as they have grown. To build skills in making decisions, teens must learn from their parents and from their own experiences. They need to get involved and talk more with their doctors. They need to learn to listen and understand, to ask questions when they don’t fully understand, to weigh their choices and then hopefully make the right decisions for their own future.
In Indiana, the responsibility for legal decision making changes from the parent or caregiver to the young adult at age 18. Young adults need to learn about healthcare privacy rights and understand they make the choice to accept or refuse care for themselves. The responsibility of signing healthcare consents switches into their hands. This doesn’t mean others can’t be involved. But it does mean the young adult decides who can be involved in their care and health discussions. We call this “autonomy”.
“Natural supports” are the people in your life, such as family members and friends, who are good help to you when you need to make decisions. It is important for young adults to learn that even when they are old enough to make decisions on their own, they can still ask for additional help from others when they need it.
What are the steps in making good healthcare decisions?
Teens may face a number of health decisions. Parents and caregivers can help them work through the answer to some of these common questions: How will I know if I’m too sick to go to school? What is enough pain to take medicine? What is sick enough to need to visit the doctor? What is sick enough to call an ambulance?
A teen can practice making these decisions, weighing the pros and cons of the options to make good choices. A parent or caregiver can help in this process. For example, a parent may give the teen the responsibility to take medicine prescribed for an illness. If the exact time is not important for the medication, a teen then could decide when they will take the medicine each day. Of course, parents or caregivers can still provide safety nets such as ways to have reminders and other supports to ensure teens are making good decisions.
Some teens may develop their skills in decision-making more slowly than others. They may need to explore using additional supports. Others may need legal help for making decisions as an adult. Parents do not automatically keep the legal right to make decisions for an 18-year-old who needs extra support unless special legal steps are made. Power of attorney and guardianship are examples of legal supports.
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