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intravenous hose on person s hand

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Though it was more than forty years ago that I trained as a registered nurse, I will NEVER forget the day we learned to insert intravenous needles. We were asked to select a lab partner into whom we were to insert a needle. I recall that we got five tries before we had to change partners. The room was electric with tension and apprehension. It was hard to know who was more nervous, the stickers or the stickees! To check off on this skill we had to complete three successful sticks.

Learning to “hit” a vein is an art requiring a certain pressure to pierce the skin; a sensitivity to the presence of the vein beneath the surface; then an ever-so-delicate awareness of piercing the blood vessel before stopping forward motion so as not to go through the blood vessel. All the while suffering some shaking hands yourself along with nervous responses from a lab partner.

Some of our instructors kept a watchful distance, coaching, reassuring, remaining silent and attentive.When (not IF) there were failures, they spoke encouraging words and helped us calm down, change partners and begin once more. But as the morning wore on and some of us completed our task, the ones who had not yet been successful became more and more closely scrutinized.

I recall my pal Sheryl whose hands started to shake before lab even began that morning. Several partners and many tries into it, Sheryl was still not successful. Her instructor moved in over her shoulder, talking, guiding until the instructor’s hand took the needle from Sheryl’s and completed the task. We observed in surprise. “There,” the instructor said triumphantly, “that’s how we do it!” Again, Sheryl took a needle to try once more; again the instructor took over the needle. I doubt that Sheryl ever actually inserted a needle herself.

In a few short weeks we took our places on clinical rotations in hospitals. Immediately we were called on to give injections and to start intravenous infusions. We did our best to appear confident, casual, matter-of-fact hoping to convey a competence we did not always feel. With each day we grew; we learned; we actually became competent. Except for Sheryl. She smiled and did her best to keep up. She was bright enough to pass the classes. But there simply was no substitute for the hands-on experience. Her self-doubt grew as our self-confidence flourished. Somewhere between junior and senior years of nursing school, she drifted away and did not return.


It’s been such a long while since I completed that training that I’d almost forgotten those labs and Sheryl. But she recently came to mind as I have been observing an explosion of anxiety among teens and young adults. From the outside, they look like they ought to be confident. But at home or late at night, they wrestle with deep feelings of self-doubt.

Wondering if you’re up for the task is certainly part of the teen developmental path. Kids have to try and to learn to do many new things in order to progress into adulthood. I have pondered what is different this generation among kids and families. Parents want so much to help their kids, to smooth their paths to success. I am reminded of that instructor who watched from afar, then as Sheryl struggled, moved closer and closer, coaching, guiding…then taking the task into her own hands, completing it for Sheryl. Job done? Think again. What “job” was to be done, inserting the needle or teaching the nurse-to-be?

TIP: Begin to notice ways in which your teen is growing. Pay attention to successes as well as setbacks.

  • Are the kid’s expectations too high?
  • Does he/she believe he is to get it right the first time?
  • What words of calming or encouragement does she need to hear from you before she begins once more to manage the task for herself?
  • What words of self-talk do they need to be speaking inside their own heads?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, in what ways do you need to step back, keep your hands off, in order for your teen to grow in competence and confidence? After all, it takes practice!