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Macee Prevatte
Mrs. DeBock
English 4 Honors
Effects of Parental Cancer in Adolescents
When a parent is diagnosed with cancer the entire family endures the impact of the
disease especially the children. Families experience significant alterations in daily living
patterns, roles, and relationships. According to the National Cancer Institute approximately 3
million children have a parent with cancer. Interactions between family members have a
profound impact on how the child is affected and how they cope with the disease. Many parents
may not be completely aware of the problems their children are experiencing. Proper
communication is the key to preventing the numerous problems children may develop. Children
of parents with cancer develop psychological, psychosocial, and academic problems.
There are no definite reasons why some children develop problems and others do not
when a parent has been diagnosed with cancer. However, characteristics of the children and the
parents are major risk factors for increased problems in adolescents. Studies show that children
may have more difficulty in adapting to the parents illness, when parents have more emotional
problems, are likely to react with anxiety in threatening situations, and experience marital
distress (Huizinga 730). The gender and age of the child plays a substantial role in their
functioning. Older adolescents tend to have more externalizing problems because they are more
conscious of their parents illness resulting in a greater burden on them. Studies have shown
adolescent girls are more vulnerable to developing problems due to an increase in household and

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caregiving duties. According to Semple, a lack of communication with children concerning their
parents illness results in increased levels of anxiety and distress. When physical symptoms are
not noticeable families may not acknowledge the presence of cancer, consequently depriving
adolescents of the opportunity to express their feelings and increase their anxiety about the
illness. Even though children are typically the parents main source of concern, their voice can be
easily forgotten. Parents become physically and emotionally drained causing a lack of parenting
and increasing emotional and behavioral problems in adolescents.
Adolescents are at an increased risk of developing psychological problems, psychosocial
problems, and academic problems due to a variety of circumstances related to parental cancer.
Psychological problems are divided into emotional and behavioral changes. A majority of
emotional changes include anxiety, depression, and withdrawal. The behavioral changes in
children is composed of negative emotions presented through worry, anger, separation anxiety,
and even self-harm. Socially, some adolescents isolate themselves and spend more time with
their family while others spend the majority of their time with friends and engaging in
friendships characterized by intimacy and supportiveness. Academically, adolescents have a
comparatively low GPA because they are focused on things inside of the home. Most children
have a basic understanding of cancer companied by a number of fantasies and misconceptions.
Some believed cancer was contagious and others believed they were the cause of their parents
cancer because of their bad behavior. Children may not understand what cancer is but they are
fully aware of its effects on not only the sick parent but the entire family. According to Semples
research, children have a strong desire to know about their parents illness. Many adolescents
mask their true emotions in an attempt to protect their parents during this difficult time. Boys are
incapable of expressing their true feelings because their language skills and social-emotional

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functioning are not matured yet. Girls are much more emotional as a result of increased
household duties. Overall, adolescents react negatively to parental cancer.
There are many different strategies to help adolescents cope with their parents illness.
Interventions are highly recommended and profound strategies in helping the entire family cope.
They enhance communication among family members, develop problem-solving skills, improve
the childrens knowledge of their parents cancer, facilitate active cooping, and improve the
effective involvement between family members. Open communication is an important strategy
directly affecting the childs functioning and creating trust. Parents have a strong natural desire to
protect their children so they become over whelmed and fear the prospect of sharing their cancer
diagnoses with their children. Children typically sense there is something wrong with their ill
parent, hear their parent talking about it, and they sometimes even hear about it through their
neighborhood. Children want to know about their parents cancer diagnoses, progress, condition,
and treatment. Nonetheless, as parents are often the gatekeepers of pivotal information about
their illness they must be encouraged to embrace an open style communication to facilitate
coping and family cohesion (Semple 228). Children that experienced open communication
experienced less fear and anxiety about what is going on with their ill parent because they knows
the facts and their minds do not wonder what is going on and what might happen. In order to
help adolescents adapt to their parents illness parents may seek a health care professional
specialized in working with families. The presence of cancer in a family provides them with the
opportunity to spend more time together and grow closer, increasing healthy family functioning.
Increased healthy family functioning is directly related to better mental health of adolescents. For
some adolescents, increasing time with friends aids in their adjustment to their parents illness.

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When children are provided with substantial personal and environmental resources it helps
protect them from developing more problems.
Children of parents with cancer develop psychological, psychosocial, and academic
problems. Although there are many factors that lead to these problems, there are no definite
reason why some adolescents develop them and others do not. Several of the factors leading to
problems can be easily prevented. Open communication between the family about the parents
cancer, plays a major role in preventing future problems in adolescents. Parents may not be
knowledgeable to the problems their children are developing or already developed. This may be
because the children are attempting to mask their true feelings in order to protect their parents. It
is recommended that the family as a whole participates in an intervention to improve healthy
family functioning and enhance coping strategies. In conclusion, open communication is the
main solution to preventing problems developing in adolescents.

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Works Cited
Huizinga, Gea A.Visser, AnnemiekeVan der Graaf, Winette T. A.Hoekstra, Harald J.Stewart, Roy
E.Hoekstra-Weebers, Josette E. H. M. "Family-Oriented Multilevel Study On The
Psychological Functioning Of Adolescent Children Having A Mother With
Cancer." Psycho-Oncology 20.7 (2011): 730-737. Psychology and Behavioral Sciences
Collection. Web. 24 Sept. 2015.
Lindqvist, B., et al. "Factors Associated With The Mental Health Of Adolescents When A Parent
Has Cancer." Scandinavian Journal Of Psychology 48.4 (2007): 345-351. Academic
Search Complete. Web. 1 Oct. 2015.
Semple, C.J., and E. Mccaughan. "Family Life When A Parent Is Diagnosed With Cancer:
Impact Of A Psychosocial Intervention For Young Children." European Journal Of
Cancer Care 22.2 (2013): 219-231. Academic Search Complete. Web. 24 Sept. 2015.
Sieh, Dominik, Johanna Visser-Meily, and Anne Meijer. "Differential Outcomes Of Adolescents
With Chronically Ill And Healthy Parents." Journal Of Child & Family Studies 22.2
(2013): 209-218. Academic Search Complete. Web. 1 Oct. 2015.
Visser, Annemieke, et al. "Emotional And Behavioral Problems In Children Of Parents Recently
Diagnosed With Cancer: A Longitudinal Study."Acta Oncologica 46.1 (2007):
67. Advanced Placement Source. Web. 1 Oct. 2015.
Visser, Annemieke, et al. "Emotional And Behavioural Functioning Of Children Of A Parent
Diagnosed With Cancer: A Cross-Informant Perspective." Psycho-Oncology 14.9 (2005):
746. Advanced Placement Source. Web. 1 Oct. 2015.