How to Get Your Teen to Take Their Medications

Supporting Your Troubled Teen Is an Important Healing Tool

If your troubled teen has a behavior, learning or mental health disorder, it is likely that they will have to take medication. It is often part of the treatment plan and you will want to do everything possible to ensure these are taken as prescribed.

Trying to force a teen to follow this regimen rarely works. A more effective plan is to gain their cooperation.

Most parents don't want to be the medication-police, either. The following suggestions are designed to help get your teen on track from the very beginning.

Depressed teenage girl taking medicine
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Start out Strong

The best time to get a teen on board with medication is to set up a positive program right from the start.

Focus on the Benefits

Teens are most likely to cooperate if they view taking medications as a positive step with benefits they can understand and agree with.

At this point, it may be helpful to review the anticipated goals with your teen. Perhaps it is intended to improve their mood or help them sit still during a full day of classes.

The Change Is Not Immediate

Most of these drugs work directly on the chemistry of the brain. It can take several weeks to notice changes.

Teens can easily become discouraged while waiting to see what happens next. It is important to show empathy during this time. Check in with them regularly and acknowledge that waiting is hard to do.

If you do notice positive changes, no matter how small, make sure to point this out. It is often easier for others to see the initial improvements.

Set up a Medication Schedule

In order for these drugs to be most effective, it is important to take them routinely.

It is also best to take many prescriptions at the same time every day. This often improves their effectiveness and will help your teen integrate medication into their daily routine.

Establish a Reminder

Set this up as your teens' responsibility and help them establish a reminder plan. Let your teen decide what works best.

The plan can be low or high tech:

  • Use a daily dispenser.
  • Put a note on the bathroom mirror.
  • Set an alarm on their phone or computer. 
  • Use an app designed to improve medication adherence.

Explain to your teen that you want them to handle this independently but you are there to help if needed. Check in periodically to ensure the reminder plan is working and to stress the importance of sticking with it even if they don't feel anything is happening yet.

Cater It to Your Teen

It is essential to come up with a plan that your teen can handle. If their problems make them unsafe when they do not take medication, such as a teen who is suicidal or hearing voices, then parents may need to be more directly involved.

Make every effort to teach your teen to be responsible for this task. Learning to manage medication is an important aspect of managing their disorder.

The Reality of Side Effects

It is a good idea to make your teen aware of the possible side effects they may experience. However, there is no need to dwell on this in too much detail.

Let your teen know that if any side effects occur, the most important thing is to let a parent and the doctor know immediately to discuss stopping the medication and discuss what to do about the treatment plan.

  • For some teens, side effects can become a real problem. For many, these will lessen once their body adjusts.
  • Talk to your teen about the broader and very real issue that having side effects can be discouraging and make a plan to address this possibility.
  • Make an agreement that your teen will let you know if they experience side effects or feel down because of them.
  • Recommend tracking the symptoms to monitor how disabling they are and if they seem to diminish over time.

This information will be critical if side effects continue to be problematic.

You will need to discuss these with the prescribing doctor. Changes to the dose or the type of medication can be made if needed.

"I Feel Better, Why Do I Have to Keep Taking Meds?"

When medication works and a teen starts to feel better, they may become increasingly lax or forgetful about taking medications. Perhaps even feeling that they don't need them anymore.

If you suspect that this is happening, it would be a good time to remind (not nag) your teen about the reasons they are taking medications and the importance of continuing to do so. Point out the progress they have made as well.

Some teens may have to experience a set back before they realize how much the medications are helping.

If your teen truly believes they don't need to continue to take their medication, schedule a session with the prescribing doctor to discuss the next steps.

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Article Sources
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  1. American Academy of Pediatrics: Encouraging teens to take responsibility for their own health. Updated November 21, 2015

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  3. Kosse RC, Bouvy ML, Belitser SV, de Vries TW, van der Wal PS, Koster ES. Effective engagement of adolescent asthma patients with mobile health-supporting medication adherence. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2019;7(3):e12411. doi:10.2196/12411

  4. Emilsson M, Gustafsson PA, Öhnström G, Marteinsdottir I. Beliefs regarding medication and side effects influence treatment adherence in adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2017;26(5):559-571. doi:10.1007/s00787-016-0919-1

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