Scoliosis is a physical condition of the body, but its emotional impact should not be underestimated. We talk a lot about the physical and medical aspects of scoliosis: The rate at which curves progress, the types of treatments that are most effective and the limitations that must be dealt with are all topics deserving of discussion. But for many people, the emotional aspects of living with scoliosis have the greatest impact. This is especially true for adolescents with the condition.
Teens are incredibly emotional creatures to begin with. The dramas that play out in their day-to-day lives involve challenging interpersonal relationships, the pressures of school and the many confusing changes that happen within their bodies. These are exciting times, but they are deeply emotional periods in the lives of people. And when a teen must also deal with a scoliosis diagnosis, emotions become even more complicated and difficult to deal with.
If you are the parent of a teen with scoliosis, you probably recognize that your child is riding on an emotional roller coaster. But you may not understand just how much their condition impacts the changing tides of emotion. Of course, you want to do your best to ensure that your adolescent son or daughter makes the most of their teen years, but what can you do when the emotional issues of adolescence are amplified by scoliosis?
To me, the first step to helping your child is to understand what they are going through.
Scoliosis and Adolescent Relationships
Teens crave meaningful connections with their peers. They yearn to belong and to be accepted. Scoliosis does not make this easy!
When a teen’s posture is uneven, or their clothes don’t quite fit properly, they can feel extremely self conscious. Those who have been fitted with scoliosis braces are even more susceptible to challenging emotions associated with building and maintaining healthy relationships. Let’s face it — kids with scoliosis stand out, and they feel it when the eyes of their peers are trained on them because of their condition.
Studies have shown that the majority of scoliosis patients struggle with relationships. Many of them become shy or begin to isolate themselves from others. Social situations can be emotional mine fields for teens, leading some to avoid socializing as a defense mechanism. According to research, teens with scoliosis spend less time dating and participating in recreational activities than their contemporaries who do not have the condition.
Struggles with Self Esteem
Body-image issues, especially for girls, are common in the adolescent population. Having an abnormally curved spine only exacerbates such issues. As you know, teens can act cruel to one another, often focusing on exactly the areas that their targets feel most self conscious about. This makes fitting in very difficult for adolescents with scoliosis. They can internalize the comments they hear and begin to feel unattractive and uncomfortable.
Teens with scoliosis are far more likely to feel ashamed of their bodies compared to their peers. More than half of them feel dissatisfaction with the way they appear. And there is a tendency for teens to obsess about body image. You may notice your child frowning as they view themselves in the mirror or talking disgustedly about their curves.
Mental Health and Emotional Well-Being
The issues I have outlined thus far are serious, but they can actually lead to even more significant, major problems if they are not addressed.
The emotional impact of scoliosis on adolescents sometimes leads to long-term mental-health concerns like depression and anxiety. It’s not uncommon for teens with scoliosis to report feeling empty inside. Consequently, adolescents who have scoliosis are more likely to consider suicide than their peers.
Teens who experience these types of emotional upheavals look to substances like alcohol and drugs for relief. Adolescents with scoliosis engage in substance abuse at rates far higher than their peers. For example, girls with scoliosis are three times more likely to consume alcohol than their peers who do not have scoliosis. And boys with scoliosis drink almost twice as much alcohol than their peers.
These emotional impacts should be taken very seriously. They represent more than just a “phase” that your child is going through. They can have long-term and far-reaching impacts on your child’s entire life.
What Can Parents Do?
Being the parent of a teen is hard work. Being the parent of a teen with scoliosis is much more difficult. But it’s also extraordinarily rewarding when you are able to guide your son or daughter successfully through their adolescence in spite of the impacts of their condition.
The most important thing you can do for your child is to establish and maintain open lines of communication. Don’t just limit your discussions of scoliosis to the physical realities of the condition; encourage your child to talk about how their scoliosis makes them feel. Take time to ask questions. And make sure you truly listen to what they have to say. Simply giving your son or daughter the opportunity to express themselves openly and honestly will provide enormous relief.
When you speak with your child, it is critical that you communicate without judgment. Their emotional turmoil may seem trivial to you, as an adult. But to them, there is nothing more consequential than the emotional matters they are dealing with right now.
Finally, I would encourage you to continue educating yourself about the condition and its impact on your adolescent child. Seeking information and support will show your son or daughter that you are in their corner and that their struggles mean something to you. The more you know, the more you will be able to provide help during a difficult time in your child’s life.
If you are interested in learning more about the emotional impact of scoliosis on your teen, and you are wondering about the treatment options that can build confidence, self esteem and a strong sense of well-being, the Scoliosis Reduction Center is here for you.
Call us today at 321-939-2328 to begin the conversation.