Lung Transplant Program Family Resources

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Your teen's cognitive and emotional development

The teenage years are challenging, even without having to deal with chronic illness and transplant surgery. Emotional mood swings and the desire for increased independence can be especially intense for transplant patients, and typical adolescent behaviors may complicate healthy post-transplant living.

While a transplant offers great hope for a longer and more fulfilling life, it poses challenges of its own. Understanding what your child is going through can help you support him or her during this important time—and help you cope, too.

Cognitive development

Research suggests that the brain is not fully developed until the mid-20s, and between the ages of 11 and 15, children enter a new stage of cognitive development marked by:

  • An increase in abstract thinking, including being able to understand hypothetical situations and generalizations
  • A tendency to compare themselves, others and the world to “ideals”
  • Better problem-solving skills

Because of the developing brain, there’s also lots of “in the moment” thinking—teens may have a hard time foreseeing the consequences of their actions. This can lead to risk-taking behaviors, such as substance abuse, increased susceptibility to peer pressure, sexual activity and, in the case of those with chronic illnesses, not taking their medications.

Emotional development

A big part of adolescence is navigating the territory between the security of childhood and the independence of adulthood. Teens often go through a period of egocentrism where they see the world as focused solely on them, or where they don't seem to understand how decisions they make today could affect their future.  

You may also notice your child:

  • Wanting more responsibility
  • Testing boundaries and seeing how much he or she can get away with
  • Exploring his or her own identity—figuring out who he or she is, what’s important to him or her and where he or she is headed in life

Transplant patients must also incorporate physical restrictions, potentially noticeable scars and/or disabilities into their identities. How they do this may depend on when they were diagnosed, whether their illness was chronic or came on suddenly, and how well or sick they feel at any given time.

The future of pediatrics will be forged by thinking differently, breaking paradigms and joining together in a shared vision of tackling the toughest challenges before us.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

Boston Children's Hospital 300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115 617-355-6000 | 800-355-7944