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What the doc is telling your teen

If you're the parent of a 'tween or teen, chances are you've been asked to leave the room during your child's visit to the doctor so they can have a private chat.

Now of course I believe that teenagers should have a trusting relationship with their doctors. But while I'm sitting there alone in the waiting room, watching the younger mommies bounce babies on their knees, I can't help but wonder what my kids are telling the doctor behind that closed door.

See, I'm a nosy mom, and if something's going on with my children's health, I want to hear about it. I mean, if your kid was suicidal, or a heroin addict, and somehow you didn't know it, would the doctor tell you?

MORE ONLINE 

Visit the American Academy of Pediatrics.Read the academy's guidelines for pediatric visits for patients age 11 to 21 here.

Turns out the answer is yes. "If we are concerned that someone is in danger, we are compelled to share that information," said Dr. Joseph Hagan, who is part of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Bright Futures initiative to improve children's health.

But Hagan emphasized that giving kids a chance to speak privately with doctors "is not about secrecy. It's about autonomy. A 16-year-old should begin to ask his own questions about his health."

In fact, if your pediatrician doesn't ask you to leave the room during teen visits, maybe he or she should. "The pediatrician should spend most of the office visit alone with the adolescent," according to Dr. David Tayloe, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "It's very important for teenagers to have confidential conversations with their pediatricians."

Tayloe added that 75 percent of teenagers are sexually active by their senior year of high school, and Hagan said he starts talking to kids about sexuality around age 12, to let them know that sexual feelings are normal and to answer questions.

TWEEN-TEEN VACCINES 

Today's teenagers may have missed some of the newer vaccines. Some to consider: 

  • Meningitis, for kids 11-12 and older. The disease can be spread in places like sleep-away camps and college dorms.
  • For girls, the human papillomavirus vaccine, which protects against cervical cancer.
  • Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis combo, for kids who were not inoculated against them when they were little.
  • Optional: flu shots; a second dose of the varicella vaccine against chicken pox; and the hepatitis A vaccine.

But he also tries to get patients and parents communicating. "If a girl is concerned about pregnancy, I might say, 'what do you think your parents would say if you talked to them about this? Shall we tell them together?"'

Some of the other things that keep me up at night -- oh, the usual nightmares about teen smoking, car accidents and too much pepperoni and soda -- are also on doctors' lists for teenage checkups.

According to Tayloe, at least two-thirds of teen traffic fatalities involve teens who are not wearing seat restraints. Thirty percent of teens are overweight and need to be enrolled in fitness and nutrition programs. And the vast majority of adult smokers began smoking by age 18.

Tayloe added that most teenagers have experimented with alcohol by the time they are high school seniors. "Pediatricians need to level with teens about alcohol," he said, including the fact that underage drinking contributes to car accidents and unplanned pregnancies.

He also said that 20 percent of children have mental health problems, but only 20 percent of those kids are getting help. Pediatricians should screen adolescents for depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder and suicidal thoughts.

Beth J. Harpaz is the author of 13 is the New 18.

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