Coming of age can be a difficult time for both parents and their teen children. Your "baby" is pulling for more independence. Your previous ability to control their choices must give way to trust in their decision-making. It’s not easy. So it’s understandable that you may may feel almost betrayed the first time your child’s pediatrician asks you to step out of the room to allow for a private conversation. But allowing that conversation is one of the most important things you can do for your teen’s health. Here’s why.
Shared Goals. Different Approaches.
Parents and pediatricians share a common end goal: fostering your child’s health and well-being. To provide complete care, pediatricians need to understand all that is going on. That requires your teen’s total honesty. And that level of honesty is easier with you out of the room. You are wired to be a protective “mama or papa bear.” While that core instinct has helped nurture your child, it can also cloud your subjectivity.
For instance, if your teen discloses that some of his friends were talking about marijuana or sex, your instinct may be to demand the names of these friends so you can cut off all contact and protect your child.
As pediatricians, we also want to protect your teen. We do this by creating a safe, open environment for discussion without the emotional factor; an environment in which we can objectively analyze, educate, examine, and screen appropriately.
This is why pediatricians make sure our own teens are seen by another physician colleague–alone. We know that our subjectivity flies out the window when it comes to our own children.
A Safe Place for Discussion
Our conversations with your child include questions about mental health, drugs, sex and gender identity, bullying, and social media. We discuss their exposure to these topics, even if they are not personally participating. This allows us to recognize signs of unhealthy relationships and suggest tools to rebuff peer pressure.
We ask the same questions of ALL teens, based on our understanding of the world in which they live; not on assumptions about your individual child. Peers and social media have likely introduced these concepts long before our conversation, so we are not “putting ideas into their heads.” Often, though, our conversations uncover misconceptions we can rectify, including information about pubertal changes teens may feel more comfortable discussing with their physician rather than their parents. We provide this safe space.
Our conversation is open and nonjudgmental to encourage your child to be open with us. However, we do not condone behaviors that put your teen’s health at risk. When we learn they are engaging in sex, trying alcohol, or experimenting with marijuana, our first response is to make them aware of the risks of their behavior. While nonjudgmental, we are stern in our warnings about the possible outcomes of behavior and encourage that behavior to stop.
The Ripple Effect
When you throw a rock in a pond, the ripples start small and continue to spread farther than the eye can see. Harmful choices in the teen years can potentially create life-long health issues if those ripples continue to spread. Likewise, positive ripples and healthy choices set up your teen for future good health and success. When doctors are able to uncover the start of a negative ripple effect, we can work to stop the spread of those ripples and counteract them with a positive ripple effect.
So, the next time your teen’s pediatrician asks you to leave the exam room, welcome this opportunity that helps assure your child’s health and well-being.