Parents have been checking up with me about whether they really need to bring their teenager in every year for a checkup. Let me examine that concern and provide some advice, since annual visits to a health care provider should occur more frequently than they actually do.
Think about it. Adolescents change so much year-to-year in terms of their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. They need someone to talk to about reproductive health, how to deal with avoidance of drugs, tobacco or alcohol, even eating disorders. There are also changes in pubertal development and sexual identity – all big topics for conversation.
While parents can be helpful and should be talking openly about health and relationship issues with their teenage children, it is often easier said than done. That is where your teen’s health professional can enter and have a discussion at least annually with your teen on these topics and more.
In addition, your teen’s health care professional might become the role-model and mentor your adolescent needs to stay healthy. He or she might also be the one person your adolescent can ask difficult questions, confidentially and honestly, when it comes to struggles with health problems, relationships, peer-pressures, or other emotional difficulties.
Finally, there is no better way than a yearly health maintenance visit to be sure your adolescent is ready for school and sports and is protected against serious infections through immunizations.
So what do I suggest? Make sure your teen has a yearly checkup even if they won’t receive vaccines that year. Encourage your teen to be open and honest with their health care professional, who is always ready to listen and be nonjudgmental. In fact, confidentiality is always maintained unless a teen demonstrates a reason to harm themselves or someone else. The more consistently a teen visits their health professional each year to earn that person’s trust, the more helpful that visit will be.
Most importantly, remind your teen that the more they know about their bodies, the more they can be in control of their own health as they get older.
Hopefully tips like this will be easy to check up on when insisting your teen visit their health care professional not just when they’re physically ill, but for an annual health maintenance visit. This way, they’ll stay physically and emotionally healthy in the year ahead.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.