Approximately two out of three adolescents visit a health care provider once a year, yet only one in 15 visits are for preventive care. Unfortunately, that percentage only gets smaller with increasing age.
After your child has outgrown their pediatrician’s office, it’s important to maintain yearly wellness visits into their teenage years and beyond.
Jill Schmitt, D.O., Beaumont family medicine physician, explains her practice often sees teenage patients for sports physicals, but yearly wellness visits, “have a much broader focus and allows for time to be spent on ‘anticipatory guidance’ or education given to both the parent and the teen about what to expect in the year or two to come.”
Because there are so many changes that teens go through, and there is a lot of variability of the age in which these changes occur, here are four essential reasons your teen should regularly visit his/her primary care physician:
TRANSITION AND STRESS
Adolescence is a very stressful time for most teens.
“It is a big transition from being a child to becoming an adult, and most teens do not feel like they fit into either category,” says Dr. Schmitt. “When treating teens, it is important to remember this and adjust your care of them accordingly.”
Teens often take a little longer to open up and be honest with their physician, especially if there has been a recent transition to a new doctor. Seeing a patient at least yearly also helps to build a better trusting relationship, which allows them to feel more comfortable discussing difficult or unfamiliar subjects.
Yearly visits allow your child’s doctor to recognize any physical or mental changes year over year.
MISINFORMATION FROM PEERS
Because there are so many changes and challenges facing adolescents, they often seek advice from those they are comfortable with. Unfortunately, this tends to be those closest to them on a daily basis - their peers.
There is an abundance of misinformation spread around middle and high schools, most significant of which are puberty, alcohol, drugs and sex.
“Whenever I see a teen, or even a pre-teen for a checkup, I am sure to mention this to them,” says Dr. Schmitt. “I want them to know that I am a trusted source of accurate information and while it may be difficult to sort out what is true, I’m someone to talk to and ask questions.”
This is often the first time that a parent may be asked to step out of the room to allow for a more honest discussion with the patient. This helps them feel more comfortable being open and honest, but it also shows them some early independence.
DISEASE PREVENTION AND GUIDANCE
Teenage patients most commonly come to the office because of a sick visit, such as a sore throat or cough. While important, these visits often don't allow for much time to be spent on other teenage issues, but it does give a good opportunity to recommend close follow up for a wellness visit or other new issue.
Primary care physicians are trained to treat teens for a variety of issues, including:
- sports injuries
- painful or heavy menstrual periods in females
- physical changes and concerns of puberty
- mood changes
- weight issues
- other behavior changes
They’re also trained to recognize when a referral to a specialist is needed for an issue that is more complex.
SUPPORT FOR PARENTS
During this time of rapid development, it’s important for a parent to respect the changes their teen is going through. Your child needs to feel some independence and know their thoughts, concerns and feelings are credible.
Ask them if they’re comfortable with their doctor, and if not, tell them you want to help them find someone they are comfortable with. It may be a doctor they find through their own research or another doctor in the same office. Dr. Schmitt admits that this is a great way for the parent to show their teen respect and encourage their independent decision making.
As difficult as this time is for an adolescent, it is also a difficult time for the parent of an adolescent. Many parents struggle with the best way to respond to their teens mood swings and changing bodies.
"It's important to remember that one size does not fit all when it comes to a parent-teen relationship," warns Dr. Schmitt. "Utilizing your child's physician as a resource can be helpful in determining how to react to your teen."