Life gets way more complex when you're a teen. On top of all of the emotional and
physical changes you go through, there are more choices and decisions to make and
more stresses from school, sports, jobs, family, and even friends.
So who can you talk to about your physical and emotional concerns? Sometimes friends
or parents can be helpful, but you can always talk to your doctor too.
Why Do I Need to Talk With My Doctor?
When you were a little kid, your parents took care of things like scheduling your
doctors' appointments, getting your prescriptions,
and making sure you took your medicine. Now that you're getting older, you may want
— or be expected — to take
charge of your medical care.
As you get older, the issues you face can get more complicated and personal. Health
issues that might have been simpler before now can include concerns about things such
as sexual development, emotions, or weight problems. It's important to find someone
to talk to who is both knowledgeable and someone you can trust.
Many teens are comfortable talking with their parents about almost any topic, at
any time. But let's face it — not everyone is. Some teens — even though they have
a fairly open relationship with their parents — just aren't comfortable talking about
certain topics with their mother or father.
That's where your doctor or nurse can help.
Doctors and nurses are trained to help you with your health and emotional concerns.
You can talk with them, they can ask you questions, and they can check out what worries
you. That's their job.
Even if you feel embarrassed at first about raising personal subjects (like physical
development or sexual health), it's helpful to know that doctors deal with those concerns
— and all sorts of things — every day. And sometimes ignoring the risks of not
talking to your doctor can outweigh the few moments of discomfort you may feel in
raising sensitive health concerns.
Special Concerns for Teens
Maybe you're developing later or earlier than your friends and want to know what's
going on. There might be times you feel more depressed
or angry than you
used to. New sexual
feelings and behaviors can be confusing, too. Topics you never had to think about
before, such as sexually transmitted
diseases (STDs) and pregnancy, may suddenly be on your radar.
You should be able to talk to your doctor about everything, but that's easier said
than done. Being examined and questioned about your body can also be intimidating,
especially when the doctor needs to examine you in places you have always considered
private, such as your genitals or breasts.
Keep these things in mind to make it easier:
Your doctor's seen it before. Most doctors have cared for hundreds
or even thousands of patients, so they've heard, seen, and even smelled just about
everything before. No matter how troubling something might be to you, it probably
won't surprise your doctor.
Your doctor is there to help, not judge or punish. If you've
been going to the same doctor all your life, you may wonder if the doctor will be
disappointed in you when you want to talk about sex or personal things. That's what
doctors do all the time, though.
Your doctor is interested in keeping you healthy, not judging you for something
you have or haven't done. For this reason, a person who is concerned about a sensitive
topic, such as having an STD, shouldn't avoid going to the doctor. Not having things
like STDs checked might only make a condition worse or lead to a permanent health
problem, such as infertility. A doctor's role is to listen respectfully, examine,
educate, and treat people, not criticize them. If you think your doctor is judging
or preaching to you, talk to your parents about finding another doctor.
It's your job to talk openly about your symptoms and concerns.
A doctor can't help you unless you tell the whole story. Even if you're uncomfortable,
being open and honest will only benefit you. Most doctors realize that people can
feel uncomfortable about raising sensitive issues, and they try to be good listeners.
If you feel you can't put your concerns into words, try showing up for your appointment
with a written list to give to the doctor. It can include your problems,
symptoms, questions, and concerns. This approach can jump-start communication and
help put you at ease. Many people find that once they've brought the subject up and
gotten past those first nervous moments, they feel a lot more comfortable talking
Do My Parents Have to Be Involved?
Lots of teens feel comfortable talking to their parents about all of their medical
issues, but others prefer to keep certain aspects of their health private. Because
parents usually need to stay involved somewhat until their child reaches age 18, it
can help to find a "middle ground" that meets your privacy concerns and
your parents' needs.
Here are some ideas on approaching your parents about taking charge of your medical
Express your interest in taking an active role in your medical care.
Start by talking with your parents about things you'd like to handle by yourself,
like making appointments, calling your doctor with questions, and seeing the doctor
alone for part of the time. Most doctors will allow a teen to go to an appointment
alone if a parent calls and gives permission for treatment.
Balance your needs with your parents' needs. Parents are not
only interested in ensuring you get the best medical care available, they may need
to stay involved in your health care for other reasons, like insurance.
Most states require that doctors have a parent's permission before providing some
types of medical tests and treatment (there are some things that you should be able
to keep confidential from your folks if you want to, though — more on that later).
Some doctors suggest that both you and a parent meet with the doctor together
for the first part of the appointment. Parents can often help by providing information
on your (and your family's)
. At that point, if you prefer, the doctor can ask your parent to leave
so you can talk and be examined in private. If you have private questions or concerns
that you want to discuss with your doctor, this is a good time to do so.
Sometimes you need to talk to a doctor ahead of time, not just after a problem
has developed. For example, if you're considering becoming sexually active or going
on a special diet, you need to talk openly and honestly with medical experts you trust.
Ask a parent to help you find a new doctor if you need one. It's
your right to have a doctor who makes you feel comfortable and treats you with respect.
Of course the doctor you've had since you were a little kid knows your medical history,
but if you're not comfortable talking with him or her for any reason, what do you
do? Ask your parents about finding another doctor both you and they can trust. Sometimes
it helps to tell your parents you'd like to find a doctor who has lots of experience
Can I Keep My Visit Private?
It's a good idea to talk to your parents first about these types of issues, and
many teens do. But if talking to a parent or other responsible adult in your family
isn't possible, you still need to get good care for yourself. That's where confidentiality
Confidential care means that your medical treatment stays between you and your
doctor — you don't have to get a parent's permission. Confidentiality helps to ensure
honesty and openness between a patient and a doctor. Most states ensure that teens
can get confidential care for some sensitive medical matters, such as sexual health
education and treatment, mental health issues like suicide and depression, and drug
abuse. Sexual health education and treatment includes counseling, birth
control, pregnancy care, and examinations and treatment for STDs.
So where can you get these services? Many family doctors will agree to treat their
teen patients confidentially. So you may be able to approach you own family doctor
and ask if he or she will do so. If you're not sure whether your treatment will be
confidential, ask beforehand: Some doctors will treat their teen patients confidentially
only when they have a parent's approval to do so. Most doctors agree to keep things
confidential unless they feel their patient is either in danger or is a danger to
others — in these cases, the doctor must inform the teen's parents.
Some schools offer health clinics to students during school hours. A teen also
can visit a health clinic like Planned Parenthood or a gynecologist
(a doctor who specializes in reproductive health) at a public health clinic for confidential
advice and treatment on matters involving sexual health. If you don't want your parents
to know and can't use their insurance, these clinics usually offer cheaper services
or make it easy for teens to pay. Most school clinics and public health clinics that
treat teens are very careful to maintain confidentiality.
Many parents are happy to have their teens see a doctor if they need to. Discuss
with your parents the idea that you can see a doctor privately when you need to. Your
doctor's office may need to call you with confidential test results. Let the doctor know
the best way to reach you confidentially, such as a personal cellphone if you have
one. Because the doctor's bill will need to be paid, talk with your parents and the
doctor about how that can happen and still keep the visit confidential.
The more you know your body, the more you can be in control of your own health.
Finding a doctor you can respect and who respects you, someone you can be open with,
puts you on a great path to taking charge of your health for the rest of your life.