Our pediatrics chaplain, Richard Maddox, has compiled some helpful suggestions about the spiritual life of teenagers living with cancer. Dick is available through the community forum message board if you would like to contact him.
1. The "work" of a teenager is to question almost everything. Under normal circumstances, it is not unusual for a teenager to question and rebel against the religious and spiritual belief systems of his/her parents or other family members. When diagnosed and subsequently living with cancer, it is even more common for a teenager to scrutinize and dismiss the faith of his/her family. This process is quite normal, and in some ways even necessary for the teenager in order to permit him/her to apprehend and own the faith for himself/herself. A very high percentage of teenagers eventually come around to hold the basic beleifs of their parents.
2. Regardless of the degree of independence sought by teenagers, or the level of rebelliousness expressed by them, and the resulting utter frustration of their parents, most teenagers still consider their parents to be the most significant people in their lives. Consequently, while not always readily apparent, most teenagers have a deep, yearning to please their parents. This includes their desire to respect and particiapte in the religious or spiritual beliefs and practices of their parents. This may not be in the literal substance or fashion preferred by the parents, but the basic desire is still present.
3. One of the most important elements in a teenager's life is friends. For many reasons, including treatment requirements, distance, life styles, social skills with the sick, etc., relationships with friends during treatment are initially strained and often diminish over tme. When this happens, teenagers lose interest in many of the important features in their lives: treatment assent and compliance, trusting parents and medical staff, and investment in faith and hope.
4. While adults are reasonably comfortable engaging others in conversation regarding faith issues, teenagers are not sure how to do so. They generally pick unexpected times and places, and launch test messages (indirect hints and clues) when wanting to explore faith issues. Parents often are surprised by this approach and feel unprepared especially when the teenager's illness is the precipitating issue for the conversation on faith. Consequently, parents often defer, dismiss, or reframe their teenager's interest in engaging in heart-to-heart talks about faith. Such responses discourage teenagers from discussing such issues, and leave them feeling more abandoned and confused about living with cancer.