Visiting a Healthcare Professional in Your Teens
Putting Your Teen in Charge
"Part of becoming an independent person is going to an adult doctor," says Dr. Siegal. Generally, teens transition to an adult doctor when they are headed to college and need to take their college physical. Before your teen leaves your home, here's how you can help get him on his way.Encourage Responsibility
Teens claim that they're old enough to do things on their own and they should have more freedom, but when it comes to taking care of their own bodies, they don't match their words with actions. Instead, they tend to rely on you to make doctor appointments, fill prescriptions, and file the insurance claims. But it's time for you to pass the torch to them. Dr. Sigman says, "Teens should be mature enough to call the doctor themselves. They shouldn't depend on Mom to do that anymore."
Start with the basics:
- Make sure your teen has the doctor's address and telephone number, dentist's address and phone number, hospital card, insurance information, and contact information for any other specialists like eye doctors and physical therapists.
- Show him how to fill prescriptions, if necessary.
- From taking temperatures for fevers to buying the right over-the-counter medicine for a common cold, teach him how he can take care of himself in situations of common illnesses.
- Help him set up a first-aid kit. The kit should include a thermometer, bandages, antibiotic ointment, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, commons medications, and a chemical cold pack (to reduce swelling).
Even after you pass on these responsibilities, you'll want to verbally remind your kids until they have proven that they have it down.Medical History
"Quite often I ask a teenager if they had [a certain illness] before, and they say, 'I think I had it'," Dr. Sigman says. "Kids don't always think about these things." As the caretakers, you know your teen's medical history best. Before sending your teen to see a doctor on his own, sit down and go over your child's health history, including vaccination shots, immunization records, history of allergies, hospitalization records, and any surgeries or important medical events. It's a good idea for your teen to keep this information in a small pocket-sized notebook that she can carry with her on future doctor's visits. If your family has a history of certain illnesses, record that too, especially heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, breast cancer, and other hereditary conditions. Finally, if your teen is switching doctors, she should request copies of her medical and dental records from her previous doctors so her health history is accurate.Letting Go
"There needs to be some sense for the teenager that the doctor is their doctor, and not the parent's doctor," says Dr. Sigman. It's important to realize that there are certain things your teen might be more comfortable talking about with his doctor than with you.
"Parents have to let go and say, 'This is my child, my young adult child. I have to back up a bit,'" says Dr. Sigman.You're Still the Parent
Even though it's important that your teen's doctor is involved in these changing times of your teen's life, understand that you're still the biggest influence on your teen. Keep talking to your teen about where you stand on important issues.
"Don't assume that your son or daughter knows how you feel about difficult topics, such as underage drinking, drug use, and 'hooking up' (e.g., sexual encounters)," says Dr. Lawrence Neinstein, a leading specialist in adolescent healthcare. "Believe it or not, your son or daughter wants to know where you stand."
Originally published on LHJ.com, January 2005.