The importance of private visits during teenage well checks

Teen talking to a doctorDear parents:

Congratulations!  You are now the proud parent of a teenager. You have delicately guided them through infancy and childhood, and now he or she is becoming more independent every day. It’s important that your teenager’s health care provider has “alone time” at each health check with your teen. For some parents, it’s hard to let go, but this is a good step for a number of reasons.

Probably the most obvious reason is that teenagers are usually more forthcoming about their own personal questions, concerns or risky behaviors without their parent there. There are certain questions that may be embarrassing to ask in front of a parent, including changes their body is going through or something they heard about in health class (come on, Parent, you remember what it’s like to be a teen. Did you want to ask about vaginal discharge or wet dreams in front of your parents?!). It is imperative that health care providers are aware of each patient’s behaviors (as well as the behaviors that that the patient is exposed to – what a great time to role play how to handle peer pressure!). By 13 years of age, 5.6% of teens have had sex, 18.6% have tried alcohol, 8.6% have experimented with marijuana, and 9.3% have smoked a whole cigarette. Many teens are bullied at school and some have even thought about suicide. These behaviors have large impacts on health and are necessary for health care providers to screen for. It’s not that we are trying to keep secrets from you (in fact, part of the alone time includes how to improve communication about certain topics between the teen and their parents). You can rest assured that if your child is in danger, we will let you know. However, in many cases, what your child tells the doctor will be kept private.

Another benefit to private visits with the provider is that the teenager will start to become more responsible for their own healthcare. It is very important that teens begin to learn about their health issues and how to manage them, so they are better able to care for themselves as adults when you are not there to guide them (it’s amazing how many college students are not aware of their health history and text their parent for the name of the medication their own in the middle of a visit). The teens can learn to take an active role in their health, without waiting for mom or dad to chime in about how they have been feeling.

Now that you know the reasons, let’s talk logistics. In general, teenagers are interviewed separately from the parents starting around 12-13 years of age. The process may vary from clinic to clinic. He or she may be brought into the examination room alone at the beginning of the visit while the parent stays in the waiting room until later in the visit, or the parent may start with the teen in the exam room at the beginning of visit to review things such as family history of illnesses and patient’s personal history of health issues, and later will be asked to step out of the exam room to start the alone time. Either way, the parent is invited back to the exam room after the alone time to discuss remaining concerns or questions, and the parent can consent for any vaccinations or procedures.

Thank you for your cooperation in this important step towards independence for your child.  It’s an exciting time!

Sincerely,

Your teenager’s health care provider.

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