Epilepsy and Teens

Coping with a teenager can be difficult for any parent, but teens with epilepsy pose additional problems. What if your teen won't take their medicine? Will they be safe driving? Will they put themselves at risk of having more seizures by drinking or taking drugs?

Parents don't have complete control over their teens, as much as they may wish to. And letting your teen have greater independence is crucial for healthy development. Once your teen goes away to college or moves out of the home, you're going to have to have faith that they can take care of themselves. The teenage years are the in-between time, when you must give up some control of your child's health so they can step in and begin taking charge.

Epilepsy and Changes in Your Teen

Adolescence is a volatile time both socially and biologically. A lot of profound changes are taking place. It's especially important that once a child hits puberty, they go back to the doctor for a check-up. Yearly checkups are a great way to stay on top of problems before they develop in a growing teenager. It's possible that the physical changes of puberty may warrant an adjustment in your teen's medication.

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A lot of parents find that their teenager wants to stop taking medication. Some teens with epilepsy feel like they no longer need epilepsy drugs, or they don't want to be controlled by a drug. It's important that you make clear to your teen the risk of stopping medication. Teens may need to be reminded what it was like when they had regular seizures. Also, if they haven't had a seizure in some time, point out that the reason may be that their drugs are working.

Teenage years are often a time when standing out is the last thing a child wants. A lot of kids feel painfully awkward, and it can be worse for teenagers with epilepsy.

  • They may be embarrassed by their condition.
  • They may be terrified of having a seizure in public.
  • They may also not like the side effects of their medication, which may affect their concentration or their physical appearance.

It's important to get any of these concerns checked out with a doctor. It's possible that a change in medicine could ease some of their concerns.

Depression is a bigger problem among teenagers with epilepsy than previously thought, says William R. Turk, MD, chief of the Neurology Division at the Nemours Children's Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. If you think your child might be depressed, it's important to get help. Common symptoms of depression in teenagers include such things as social isolation, irritability, unexplained aches and pains, lack of interest in activities.

For parents, some of the emotional preparation for the teenage years can start early. Any parent of a child with epilepsy should work hard to establish a "climate of trust," Turk says. If you have an open and honest relationship with your child when they're young, you may feel more comfortable with their independence as they grow older. On the other hand, if you're always isolating your kids or imposing restrictions on them, they may be more likely to rebel when they get older.

Driving When a Teen Has Epilepsy

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Getting a driver's license is a monumental event in most teenagers' lives. It's a rite of passage that many teens with epilepsy worry that they'll miss. However, in most cases, teens with controlled seizures can get a license like anyone else.

The laws vary from state to state, but generally, if a person with epilepsy is on medication and hasn't had a seizure recently, they can get a license. Just how long the person must be seizure-free depends on where you live. Also, some states may allow you to get a license if you're having seizures only at a specific time of day when you wouldn't be driving (such as right before bed).

Some parents worry that their teens might not tell them about a seizure for fear they would lose their license. It's important to talk to your teenager about the significance of this information. Having a seizure while driving endangers your teen, their passengers, and other drivers.

"I tell my patients that if they have a seizure, they have to stop driving," Turk says. "It's the law and it's to protect them and their parents and anyone else on the road."

Teens, Dating, and Epilepsy

Obviously, teenagers with epilepsy date just like anyone else. But often they worry about telling dates that they have epilepsy. Your daughter may not want to tell their boyfriend. Your son may not want girls to know. In the end, the decision is up to each teen, but you should encourage your child to be honest and open. When your child enters a serious relationship, it's important for the other person to know about epilepsy. Otherwise your child's boyfriend or girlfriend could be upset and frightened during a seizure.

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One potentially awkward issue that you may want to bring up with your daughter is pregnancy. You may think it's too early to have this talk, but it's probably not. Teenagers with epilepsy may begin to wonder whether they'll be able to have a normal family, and whether their condition may cause problems with pregnancy.

The facts are reassuring: Most women with epilepsy have healthy children. However, epilepsy does increase some of the risks. Also, some epilepsy drugs may cause birth defects and others decrease the effectiveness of birth control. So, it's particularly important that women with epilepsy plan for pregnancy.

Teens, Epilepsy, Alcohol, and Drugs

Alcohol and a number of drugs, legal and illegal, can increase the risk of seizures. Although a lot of parents would rather avoid the topic, it's important to talk about these issues, especially if your child has epilepsy.

It's true that peer pressure can overwhelm any teenager's good sense, but your child may have more restraint than you expect. If they understand that drinking and doing drugs raise their risk of seizures, they really may avoid those substances. Remember, they really don't want to have seizures, either.

Epilepsy and Your Teen's Sleep

Many parents, irked when their teenager sleeps in past noon on Saturday mornings, don't worry about the kid getting enough sleep. Sometimes, it seems as though teens sleep the day away! But too little sleep is a real problem for many teens, and a particular risk for teens with epilepsy. Lack of sleep can lead to poor decisions and an increased risk of seizures.

Sleep deprivation is an especially serious problem for kids at college. "At exam time, kids may stay up for two or three nights cramming," says Turk. "And of course they celebrate by drinking like bandits. That combination can definitely result in seizures for people with epilepsy."

Without being too pushy, you should try to make sure that your child is getting enough rest. Too many late nights, whether they're out with their friends or up late doing homework, isn't a good idea. While a part-time job may be a good thing for your teenager -- in both emotional and financial ways -- make sure that they're not working so much that it's tiring them out.

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