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Adolescence: Helping Families Through the Transition



Scott Allan, MD, CCFP, Lecturer, Department of Family & Community Medicine, University of Toronto

Guilherme Dantas, MD, MHSc, Research Associate, Primary Care Research Unit, Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Toronto

Working With Families Institute, Department of Family & Community Medicine, University of Toronto

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND

Posted: July 13, 2014    Format:
Adolescence: Helping Families Through the Transition

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Views: 222

Category(s): Behavioural Medicine, Child and Adolescent, Clinical (by topic)
Topic(s): Adolescence, Preventive services, Working With Families


Adolescents’ health status is good if it is measured by traditional outcome measures, and their use of health care services is low compared with all other groups’ use. However, many problems facing adolescents, and the disability and mortality associated with these problems, are related to preventable high-risk behaviours rather than disease. According to Statistics Canada,1 58% of adolescent deaths are due to accidents and a further 15% are due to suicide. Part of the risk-taking is based on denial, grandiosity, and lack of information.

Adolescence is therefore a critical period for intervention and health promotion. It is a time when adolescents are making lifestyle choices and assuming responsibility for their own health. It is a period of great change, not only biological but also psychological and social. These changes inevitably provoke tensions and stress, not only for adolescents, but also for their families.

In today’s world, families are under increasing stress, from financial and time constraints, to family breakdown, substance abuse, and threats of violence. Family physicians are seeing an increase in psychosocial issues such as anxiety and stress-related disorders, often co-existing with and complicating medical problems such as diabetes or pneumonia. The psychosocial issues are often more difficult to diagnose and manage than are the medical problems—and all take place in the family context. Very often, the family is the key to dealing effectively with the whole spectrum of complaints, requiring a psychosocial assessment. In the crowded family medicine curriculum, this vital area of knowledge and skill is often ignored in favour of more clear-cut procedural skills.

To educate family physicians about dealing with families, a group of family medicine educators, practitioners and mental health professionals affiliated with the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University Of Toronto founded the Working with Families Institute (WWFI) in 1985. The WWFI has developed various training experiences for trainees and practising physicians.