Q: My daughter is 15. At what point should she start going to the doctor alone?
A: What a great question! A lot depends on your daughter as well as the situation. The first thing to do is ask your daughter how she feels about meeting with a doctor alone. Some teens are ready for that at 15 while others are not. You can encourage her to be more proactive and take control of her health. It will also allow her a chance to ask the doctor any questions she may be embarrassed to ask in front of you (even if she denies it.) The one-on-one time also allows the doctor to ask questions or share reminders about risky behavior, such as drinking and unprotected sex, which your daughter may not want to discuss with you in the room.
One idea is to ease into it. At her next check-up – and yes teens need annual physicals just like they did when they were younger – go in with her. After some initial questions, many pediatricians will ask the patient if they want their parent to leave the room during the exam. You may also volunteer to excuse yourself and say that you’ll leave them alone to talk. Afterwards, you can ask your daughter how she thought it went. Don’t ask her what they talked about unless she volunteers the information. You are just checking to see if she felt comfortable with the doctor and how she felt about it. Next year, you can send your daughter in alone and tell her to send the nurse out if she (or the doctor) would like to talk with you.
If your child has an acute illness, you should stay in the room to help give an accurate history and to give consent for any treatment. Privacy is not usually needed during these types of visits, but if your daughter or the doctor requests, it is ok to leave the room.
Going to the doctor and communicating about health needs and concerns is an important life skill for your teen to learn.
By Kenneth Branstetter, MD, pediatrician with ThedaCare Physicians-Pediatrics in Neenah.