Teen with doctor From infancy to school age, you have been in the doctor's office with your child for fevers, ear infections, well visits and vaccines. Today, the doctor asks to talk to your teen alone — without you in the room.

Why the change? What's going on that you can't be present for? Don't be alarmed, there are several important reasons healthcare professionals may ask to talk to your teen without you being present.

Privacy

Everything your teen discusses privately with a healthcare professional will remain confidential unless the teen says they want to hurt themselves, hurt someone else, or if someone is hurting them.

During these confidential interviews, doctors ask a range of questions such as:

  • How are you doing in school?
  • What activities do you like?
  • Do you have suicidal thoughts?
  • Do you feel safe at home, school, in romantic relationships, and with friends?

Clinicians may also ask your teen about their:

  • Eating behaviors
  • Sexual activity
  • Drug and alcohol use

It's important to understand that doctors ask these questions of all teen patients — no matter the reason for their visit to the doctor's office or emergency department (ED).

Opportunity

As children go into their teen and young adult years, they are much less likely to see a healthcare provider regularly. A surprising number of teens only encounter the healthcare system during an emergency department visit. So, this might be the only opportunity healthcare providers have to address critical health issues like depression, anxiety, abuse, safe sexual activity, or risky behaviors.

Medical organizations, such as the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that health providers who care for teens provide private, confidential care.

Parents should know that most teens are healthy and are not sexually active, are not using illegal substances, and don’t have a mental health condition. But, teens who are at the greatest risk of harm — whether due to binge drinking, unsafe sex, or suicidal thoughts — are more likely to discuss these issues with a healthcare provider when they feel confident their discussions are private.

Advocacy

Although it is recommended that all health providers talk with teens privately, all too often, teens are not given the opportunity to speak alone to a provider, particularly in the ED.

Parents, caregivers, and teen patients should expect that private time with a healthcare provider and advocate for the opportunity if it is not offered. It doesn’t matter if you think your teen has a stomach bug, the flu, or a sexually transmitted infection. Giving them the autonomy to discuss their symptoms, care and concerns today will help them talk confidently to their healthcare providers for years to come.

Make sure your adolescent understands:

  1. Why it's important to have confidential medical discussions
  2. How they can feel empowered to take control of their healthcare needs
  3. What their individual rights as patients are, such as:
    • Dignity and respect
    • Information sharing
    • Participation
    • Collaboration

Start the conversation

Some parents may feel uncomfortable talking with their teen about sensitive topics. Parents and other caregivers can find tips to start the conversation at Parents are T.A.L.K.I.N.G., a website created under the direction of Aletha Y. Akers, MD, MPH, FACOG, Medical Director of Adolescent Gynecology Consultative Services in the Craig Dalsimer Division of Adolescent Medicine, and Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MDEd, Co-Director of the Center for Parent and Teen Communication, both at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

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