When it comes to your teen's medical care, you have one very specific job: to let your teen gradually take charge of his or her own health and to eventually disappear from the examining room. But first there are a few issues to tend to.
Is your current doctor appropriate for your teen? Whether you remain with the doctor who has been seeing your child (most likely a pediatrician), really depends on personality.
Most pediatricians provide full care for adolescents; however, if they don't have a special interest in teenagers, their advice and suggestions may not be as comprehensive as you might like. There are some doctors who specialize in adolescent medicine, but they aren't always easy to locate in every community. In deciding what to do, consider the following questions:
One condition your teen's doctor will screen for is scoliosis, curvature of the spine. Girls are particularly at risk for this problem, and anyone with a family history of it has an 11 percent greater chance of developing it. If left untreated, scoliosis can lead to a prominent shoulder blade, an uneven waistline or hip, or even breathing impairment. Most cases are mild and just need to be monitored. More severe cases may require a brace (newer styles are fairly lightweight and unobtrusive). Though it may be difficult to put your teen in a brace, leaving a severe case untreated is simply unacceptable because the resulting complications are so serious.
- Does the doctor respect your teenager? By this stage, a good doctor will talk about most medical issues directly with your child, and they should be developing a rapport with one another.
- Is your child comfortable with this person? If the doctor is male, be particularly aware of how your daughter feels discussing sexual issues with him. She may feel more comfortable with a woman doctor during these years.
- Is your doctor concerned about the other issues surrounding your teen's life? Before an exam, most doctors will talk with an adolescent patient about home life, school, and extracurricular activities. They should probe for signs of trouble, like social disengagement or difficulties at home.
- Is your doctor alert to danger signs? In addition to general questions, doctors should ask about diet, drugs, sex, and thoughts of suicide—all big issues for adolescents. This is good news for you. If your teen isn't talking to you about any troubles in these areas, there's always the possibility that he or she will open up to someone else who will be a good influence or resource over the years.
Let your teen decide whether you should stay in the examining room or not. Most doctors will generally call in the parents for a final doctor-child-parent discussion where you can find out how your teen is doing.
Part of parenting is setting up a helpful network for your teen, and finding a good doctor is an important part of this connection.
What About a Gynecologist?
A girl's first gynecological visit usually comes between ages 16 and 18, or when she experiences some type of gynecological irregularity. Any teen who is sexually active should also be examined by a gynecologist.
For reasons of privacy (hers), consider taking your daughter to a different gynecologist than the one you use. If you take her to the same gynecologist you see, she may not request birth control or bring up any subjects she's afraid you may end up hearing about. If you prefer to use the same gynecologist, reassure your teen that anything she discusses with her gynecologist will stay between them. (You will not be trying to pry details out of the doctor at other times.)
Spend some time looking for referrals to a doctor who has experience working with teens. Ideally, a good gynecologist will do the following with your teen:
- Explain what will happen during the exam.
- Show her the instruments that will be used during the exam.
- Discuss various forms of sexually transmitted diseases and be prepared to offer information on how to avoid them.
- Help your daughter feel comfortable talking about sexual issues or problems.
- Give your daughter a pelvic exam and discuss birth control if she is sexually active.
- Discuss and examine any problems your daughter experiences, such as menstrual problems, vaginal discharge, secondary amenorrhea (the loss of her period), or any sort of pelvic pain.