Telling Adolescents a Parent is Dying

Publication Title

Journal of Palliative Medicine

Publication Date


Document Type





adolescents, parent, dying




Background: When a parent is terminally ill, one of the major challenges facing families is informing children of the parent's condition and prognosis. This study describes four ways in which parents disclose information about a parent's life-threatening illness to their adolescent children. Methods: We audio-recorded and transcribed 61 individual interviews with hospice patients who were recruited from a large hospice in northeastern Ohio, their spouses/partners, and their adolescent children. The interviews were coded and analyzed using a constant comparison approach. Results and Conclusions: Families inform adolescents about the progression of a parent's terminal illness in characteristic ways that remain fairly consistent throughout the illness, and are aimed at easing the adolescents' burden and distress. The families engaged in the process of disclosure in one of four ways: measured telling, skirted telling, matter-of-fact telling, and inconsistent telling. These results will inform the development of interventions that assist families with disclosure and are tailored to each family's communication style.