When your child gets into the teen years, most pediatricians and family doctors like to see them privately. At that age, it’s time for kids to start taking control of their own health, and many like the opportunity to ask their doctors questions that they might not feel comfortable asking in front of their parents. This does not mean that your job is over when it comes to talking about your child’s health, however!
As your teen’s parent, you are still the person who is ultimately responsible for keeping your adolescent healthy. You are likely to notice things that your teen might not take seriously and, of course, you want to get your teen off to the best start in terms of entering adulthood with good health. Each doctor’s visit should begin with you in the room so you can ask questions. Take a look at the following ideas for conversations to have with your teen’s doctor.
Talk About Specific Health Concerns
If your teenager has specific health issues, then of course you will want to discuss them with his or her doctor. It could be that your teen has dealt with allergies, asthma, or diabetes for many years. In this case, you likely know a lot about the illness and might just have a question or two. If your teen has been recently diagnosed with any type of health condition, you will probably have a lot more questions. These are important to ask during your child’s well-teen visits or sick visits.
Keep in mind that the eventual goal with most chronic illnesses is that your teen will be able to handle it him- or herself when they go off to college or move out of the house. It’s appropriate to ask your teen’s doctor questions about the process of transferring over that responsibility gradually during the teen years, if you aren’t sure where to start.
Talk About Your Family’s History
Most families have health issues that can be traced back to a teen’s grandparents or great-grandparents. If your own parents or grandparents have dealt with cancers, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, or any other serious health concerns, it’s good to let your teen’s doctor know. This is particularly important when it comes to genetic conditions that your teen might need to be tested for.
Chances are good that this is already on your teen’s health record, but particularly if your teenager has changed from seeing a pediatrician to seeing a family doctor or internist, his or her health history needs to be updated. Your teen might not know enough about it to accurately relay the information to the new physician.
Talk About Vaccinations
You might have thought that you were off the hook for vaccines once your little one had his or her kindergarten booster shots, but more vaccinations have been added to the schedule over the last decade or so. Teens today are usually given shots for tetanus/pertussis, meningitis, human papillomavirus, and other diseases. Your teen might also need a yearly flu shot, as well as vaccinations that they missed during early childhood.
Most teens do not like getting vaccinations, but this is your chance to make the decision for them that they will have the shots. This way, they are covered until boosters are needed during adulthood, at which time it will be their decision.
Talk About Mental Health Issues
Have you had a feeling that your teen is dealing with more anxiety or lower moods than others his or her age? If you are worried that your adolescent might have a mental health condition or you are concerned about his or her behavior, now is the time to speak up. Keep in mind that the earlier mental health conditions are detected, the earlier they can be treated. Also, remember that you have only a handful of years, if that, to make decisions for your teen. A mental health condition can be lifelong, so it’s important to step in and get your son or daughter treatment now, before they become and adult.
Also, if you have mental health conditions in your family, it’s a good idea to make sure that the teen’s doctor knows. He or she can then talk to you and your teen about what mental illness symptoms to watch for in the future, even if there are none now.
Talk About Sexual Health Topics
Whether we like it or not, many teens become sexually active during the high school (or, in some cases, middle school) years. It’s important to be open to the fact that your child is a sexual being and also to keep in mind that they might or might not be heterosexual. If you have trouble talking to your teen about sexual health issues, it’s important to talk to your teen’s doctor about it. Also ask when your daughter should begin having pelvic exams and pap smears.
Do keep in mind that if your child confides in the doctor about sex or anything else (aside from suicidal tendencies or wishing to harm others), you will not be told. Let your teen know that he or she should feel free to talk to the doctor about anything, including sex. This is an important part of becoming an adult. Give your teen the privacy needed to discuss birth control or other aspects of his or her sexual health with the doctor. In most states, your teen will be able to obtain birth control without your knowledge; do not press the doctor for details on whether your teen has chosen to do that. Instead, let your teen know that they can come to you if they want to.
Dealing with health concerns, including routine health management, when you have a teenager can be tricky business. You have to balance your involvement with your teen’s privacy, and sometimes you have to make difficult decisions with or without your teen’s blessing. His or her doctor can be an important mediator and an excellent resource for health information that will help both of you make the right choices. Don’t be afraid to talk to him or her about anything that might concern you about your teen’s physical or mental health.