Expert Q&A: Getting Teens to Take Meds

For most teens and kids with juvenile arthritis, refusing to take meds is about control. 

Question: My 14-year old doesn’t want to take her medicine. I hate hounding her because I think it should be her responsibility, but if I don’t, she won’t take them, and she’ll risk having a flare. Any advice?

Answer: You’ve probably tried taking away her cell phone or grounding – and for most kids, these things don’t work. Not taking medication is almost always about control.  Teenagers don’t have control over much, especially when they have a chronic disease.  

However, they can control what goes in their mouth. So, put her in control. Have her doctor explain (maybe without a parent in the room) what will happen if she doesn’t take her medicine.  Buy her a pillbox and put her in charge of taking it. You can ease her into this role by only asking if she’s taken her medication at night. If she says no, don’t argue with her about it. She might have more pain and stiffness if she refuses to take it, but this might also help her remember why it’s so important.  If this doesn’t work, you may want to try counseling to see if there are other issues that could use some help.

Carolyn Confer, MSW, LCSW

Clinical Social Worker

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh

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