The nature of the relationships with his or her parents and friends will strongly influence the impact of epilepsy on the teen. Parents who have open communication and a strong basis of trust with their child before adolescence will have a much easier time relating to that child during the difficult times of adolescence. For parents who have relationship problems with their child, counseling may be helpful. Parenting is never easy, and parenting of a child with epilepsy during adolescence can be especially difficult. Parents should not hesitate to ask for help. The help can come from a friend, family member, religious leader, social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist.
Parents must set limits, such as restricting activities and setting curfews. Setting limits is difficult for both parents and children. The concern for the child's safety must be balanced against his or her need for independence and peer-group acceptance. All children face some risks. Minimizing the risks does not justify severe restriction of their activities. The parents' goal should be to help their child achieve a mature and independent state.
Parents should encourage teens to "think things out" and to weigh the positives and negatives of their decisions. Parents should discuss strategies that can be used to reduce or eliminate negative factors. For example, it may be safe for a teen to go on a canoeing and camping trip if certain precautions are taken. Then the teen can experience the excitement and adventure of a new activity without the parents and can be included in the peer group. Parents should not see their role simply as protecting their child from danger, for the greatest danger may be bringing up a dependent child who has poor self-esteem.
The adolescent peer group strongly influences the behavior of its members. In early adolescence, there is a strong need to be part of a group and a need to conform. Although the bonds appear strong, the relationships are often shallow.
Parents should want their children to be socially active, but the friends they make are often not ideal in the parents' eyes. If friends clearly push a child toward dangerous behaviors, then the parent must intervene. That does not mean forbidding the child from ever socializing with these friends, but it does mean that the child should understand why such behaviors are dangerous and must be avoided. A real problem arises when the child is pressured into participating in repeated undesirable behaviors with friends.
Because acceptance by friends may be especially important for teens with epilepsy, parents must be careful in how they react. Often, social isolation is a much more dangerous situation than the rebellious activities of adolescence. On the other hand, young people used to rejection can be particularly vulnerable when undesirable groups show a willingness to associate with them. The Epilepsy Foundation has a Teen Community Group accessed through its website. For many teenagers it is a tremendous benefit to chat with other teens that have epilepsy, and realize they are not the only one dealing with the challenging issues of adolescence and epilepsy.