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Teen Physical: When Should Your Teen Take Charge at the Doctor

As our kids become adolescents, we provide them with freedom—to drive, to manage their schoolwork, to spend time unsupervised. But when it comes to our kids’ health and medical care, it seems they’re still our babies. When should we encourage them to begin to take charge of their health and do more of the talking at their doctor’s appointments?

A national poll conducted in 2015 by the University of Michigan’s Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit found that many parents of teens are heavily involved in their children’s healthcare. Nearly 40 percent of parents said that they alone—not their teens—asked questions at the annual teen physical. Parents were the ones to ask about health issues at appointments. Thirty-four percent of parents say their teens do not have any private discussion time with their doctor. And almost two-thirds of parents complete their teens’ health history without any involvement from the teen.

Teen Doctor Visit: Let Them Practice Taking Charge

But shouldn’t we take charge when their health is so important? Not necessarily. “Parents should want their child to become effective healthcare consumers. And that takes practice,” says Sarah Clark, lead author of the study. “When parents dominate the healthcare interactions, they impede their children’s opportunity to learn to identify and describe their own symptoms, to practice asking questions and clarifying the response, and to understand the basics of the healthcare system.”

How do you start encouraging your teenager to take charge of their health and doctor’s appointments? Coach your tweens to check themselves in for their teen physical and other appointments, fill out forms, learn about over-the-counter medications, and talk with the doctor. Then, as older teens, coach them to manage health insurance info. And encourage them to schedule and attend their own appointments by themselves (yes, a teenager can go to the doctor alone!).

You may have taken them to their first pediatrician visit, but you needn’t attend their last.

Sharon Holbrook

Sharon Holbrook is managing editor of Your Teen.