They’re older than children but not quite adults; still tweens and teens have plenty of opinions and feelings. It may come as a bit of a surprise for parents of adolescent children to discover that it’s recommended all children ages 12-18, not just student athletes, to get a back-to-school exam. Only about two-thirds of adolescents visit a healthcare provider annually and the reasons will sound all too familiar to parents:
- This age group is increasingly resistant to healthcare visits as they think they’re unnecessary
- They are uncomfortable discussing risky behaviors and lack trust in the confidentiality of the doctor-patient relationship
- The natural evolution of less parental involvement can mean less prompting to seek preventative care
Reasons to make the appointment
Athletes are used to getting an annual physical, but beyond that group, why does a healthy adolescent need to be screened regularly?
Medical issues change rapidly with adolescence – exhaustion, acne, puberty, menstruation, and poor eating habits cab put them at risk for anemia and a host of other problems. This is also the time to start discussing mental health issues.
It is not uncommon for teens to begin having their own questions and concerns about their health. The opportunity to have these addressed by a dependable and trusted source such as a medical professional, instead of a parent, is a key component of maturity and self-reliance.
What to expect
You should expect your doctor to focus on growth and development, learning, home life, physical exams, updating immunizations and of course answering questions.
“Adolescent exams will most often include screening for high blood pressure, height and weight for obesity and a thorough physical exam,” says Irene Olabode, DO, board-certified family medical physician at Methodist Family Health Center – Kessler Park. “The physical is looking for such things as vision or hearing problems, scoliosis (curvature of the back) just to name a few and it can include gender-specific areas such as breasts and pelvic exam for girls and hernias or tumors in the groin for boys.”
For student athletes, a sports physical will be performed giving a more comprehensive look at issues related to a child’s ability to participate in sports. Your physician will ask about family history of sudden cardiac death, sports-related injuries such as concussions; a joint exam, reflexes (called a neurological exam), nutrition, asthma screening, strength and flexibility and vision.
“These basic screenings can alert us to a need for additional tests or prompt a referral to a specialist such as a speech therapist,” explains Dr. Olabode. “In addition to these routine screenings, a mental health evaluation should be a part of the visit and it’s often the most overlooked screening.”
Adolescence is often a time for a new round of shots – many will need boosters for vaccines against tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough and meningitis. Check the list below to see if your child is up-to-date on his/her shots.
By age 13, teens should have already received these immunizations:
- chickenpox (varicella)vaccine (if they have not had chickenpox)
- Inactivated polio
- measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR)vaccine
- hepatitis B vaccine (HBV)series
- hepatitis A vaccine (HAV)series
- meningococcal vaccine
- human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV)
- diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis booster (Tdap)
Prepare for a private discussion
Don’t be shocked if you are asked to leave the exam room for some or all of the appointment. Many physicians find that asking parents for privacy with their adolescent patients leads to much more honest and frank conversations about the toughest age-related issues like sex, drugs and alcohol.
“When I am alone with my younger patients, I can better educate them about these issues in a non-judgmental way,” explains Dr. Olabode. “It is important to build a trusting relationship so that they will seek my care if they ever find themselves in a situation that requires it.”
If you have concerns about how your doctor will handle whatever information they get during their conversations, for example, will they share it with you or not? – make sure to ask before or at the beginning of the appointment how the doctor handles confidential information so you aren’t surprised.
Do you already know about specific concerns you’d like addressed? Ask if you can send a letter or email prior to the appointment. Alerting the doctor to your concerns beforehand can help direct the nature of the questions that may need to be asked in private.
It’s hard to not be anxious about your child discussing their health in a confidential environment that doesn’t include you, but consider this, doing so is an important step in taking on more personal responsibility for their health and wellness as they grow into adults.
Are you looking for a physician for you or your child? Go to https://methodistfamilycare.com/ to find a Methodist Family Health Center near you.