The central concerns of terminally ill teenagers

By Dr. Saul Ebema- Resident writer.

The responses and needs of terminally ill teenagers differ a little bit from those of adults. The developmental stage of teenagers makes their responses to death more intense than those of adults.

The fear of pain and physical disability emerge as central concerns. “A related problem that is most apparent in teenaged patients involves the association between body-image and identity, and the feelings of shame and disgrace over their physical conditions.

For the terminally ill teen, there is an acute sense of the injustice of death.”  Dying teenagers rightly see themselves as being cheated out of a future and this is hard to accept. “Hostility and aggressive behavior is not unusual for terminally ill teens, and these feelings certainly need to be addressed.”

Due to depression, teenagers with terminal illness may attempt to commit suicide. Sometimes their close friends empathize with them so much that the potential for a suicide pact is common and high.

Therefore, terminally ill teenagers and their friends may have to be monitored for suicide.

For chaplains, social workers and therapists counseling teenagers, counseling techniques must be adjusted to the developmental level of each teenager.


  1. John E. Schowalter, The child’s reaction to his own terminal illness (New York: Columbia University Press. 1970), 92.
  2. Susan Blake and Karen Paulsen, “Therapeutic intervention with terminally ill children: A review.” Journal of Professional Psychology 12 (1981): 54

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