Teens and young adults need specialized medical care and a provider with whom they can discuss anything, from normal body growth and development, illness, preventive care, sexual concerns and emotional problems. Their parents also need special guidance and support through these years. As teens begin to develop into adults and take more responsibility for their lives, we ask for more input from them about their health. At the same time, parents usually want to stay involved in their teen’s healthcare. How and when do parents begin stepping back?
Parents want to know: At what age should I allow my child to have time alone with their provider, without me in the room? Does my child have a right to any services without my permission?
Teens want to know: Am I allowed to talk to my doctor privately, without my parent in the room? What services do I need my parent’s permission for?
It is considered best practice to ask parents to wait outside for part of an exam and to encourage the teen to discuss his or her own view of their health. There are varying thoughts about what age this should begin, but many providers begin this process around age 12-13, to set the stage for the child’s growing independence. Talking to teens without the parent also gives teens a chance to ask questions or give information they may feel self-conscious about. Teens often have questions or concerns that they may feel embarrassed to talk about in front of their parents.
Many teenagers and young adults experiment with high-risk behaviors that can lead to serious problems.
In Michigan high schools*:
• 36 % have tried cigarettes
• 60 % drank alcohol
• 33 % have tried marijuana
• 38 % have had sex
Sometimes teenagers will hide their behavior so parents are not the first to find out. Our goal is to help prevent and identify these problems before they become serious. Providers should ask parents to leave for part of the interview for confidentiality and to build trust, but also encourage the teen to discuss important issues with their parent or guardian. It is important to know that if a teen is doing anything to hurt themselves or others, or if someone is hurting them, providers will be forced to break confidentiality and tell an appropriate adult.
Michigan state law requires that some services are available to teens privately. This includes pregnancy testing and services, contraception, testing for and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, substance abuse treatment, and mental health counseling. However, Michigan law does not allow contraception to be available on school property, so school-based health centers like RAHS clinics do not offer contraceptive services, including condoms.
As we encourage teens to invest in their own healthcare, we are helping them build a strong foundation for a lifetime of caring about their health, advocating for themselves, and being comfortable talking honestly to their medical providers so that they can receive the best care possible.
RAHS staff is always available to discuss health problems or answer questions. Our staff wants to work with parents to help teen(s) make the best choices for a healthy future.