Our colleagues at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently released an updated policy statement about informed consent for medical procedures. This update, the first since 1995, was also the subject of an explanatory article in The New York Times. The AAP policy goes into great detail regarding not just parental informed consent, but also assent by minors. Legally, all patients must be provided with enough information about medical conditions and procedures in order for them to agree to undergo any treatments. Children, however, are under the care of their parents, who are the ones providing the consent. That’s where assent comes into play. Even though children (anyone under 18) can’t legally make their own medical decisions, it’s still considered best practice to explain as much as possible to them in age-appropriate language, and to allow their voice to be heard in the decision-making process.
We’ve always taken student participation very seriously here at The Yellin Center, and we’re thrilled to know that the medical community is continuing to advocate for including children and teens in the decision-making process. Allowing children and teens the opportunity to become actively engaged in the conversation about their healthcare allows them to practice these decision-making skills safely for later on, with the understanding that parents and doctors ultimately (and legally) have the final say. Even more importantly, the AAP notes that letting kids and teens “in the loop” – helping them understand everything that’s going on – can promote empowerment and compliance with treatment.
Even though this policy statement was released by medical professionals, the sentiment translates well right down to the classroom level, and it’s something many teachers are starting to embrace. When kids understand why they’re being asked to do certain tasks, or learn certain concepts, they can develop an appreciation for their time in school. Similarly, many students can benefit from knowledge of how all brains work differently and what strategies might help them learn best, just like a doctor may explain to a child why she has to get her tetanus booster. It could make that shot a little less painful, and that classroom activity a little more worthwhile, from the child’s perspective.