A Teen Guide for Talking to a Doctor
Note to parents: This blog is written for teens. Please consider printing it out and sharing it with them. A doctor is an excellent source of reliable, responsible, accurate information for your teen, so as much as you might hope your teen would feel comfortable enough to ask you any and every question they have, it is in your best interest to encourage them to have a good relationship with their doctor.
When you were a small child, your parents took care of your health. They would kiss your boo-boos, make sure you got a check-up, ask your doctor about your development, and insist you take your medicine. As you get older, the issues you face can get more complicated and personal. Teens are going through rapid emotional and physical changes at the same time they are facing more stress from school, family, friends, sports, and even jobs. A teen’s health concerns can cover a broad range of confusing topics from sexual development, weight problems, emotional roller coasters, and how to handle stress. It’s important to find someone to talk to who is both knowledgeable and someone you can trust. Yes, you can try talking to a friend or looking on the Internet, but you are not going to get the best and most reliable information. Doctors and nurses are trained to help you with your health and emotional concerns.
Things you should know about doctors
Your doctor will respect your privacy. Most 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) medical history. At that point, the doctor can ask your parent to leave so you can talk and be examined in private. If he or she doesn’t suggest private time, just ask. Your doctor will keep the details of what you talk about confidential. The only times when your doctor cannot honor your privacy is when someone is hurting you or you are going to hurt yourself or someone else. There are state laws that require doctors to share information when there is a concern about someone possibly getting hurt. If this happens, you and your doctor will talk about how to share any information necessary to keep everybody safe. It is perfectly appropriate for you to ask your doctor what information they will keep confidential and then feel secure to discuss your concerns with this responsible adult.
Your doctor has seen and heard it all before. It is normal to feel embarrassed to discuss personal subjects like sex, eating problems, suicidal thoughts, drugs, school stress, or body development. But rest assured that your doctor has cared for hundreds of patients. He or she has answered all kinds of questions from teens just like you. No matter how troubling something might be to you, it probably won’t surprise your doctor. Additionally, your doctor is interested in keeping you healthy, not judging you for something you have or haven’t done. A doctor’s role is to listen respectfully, examine, educate, and treat people, not criticize them. Besides, the risks of not talking to your doctor about a health concern can outweigh the few moments of discomfort you may feel.
Your doctor is an expert in health issues and wants to help you make healthy decisions. You can and should talk with your doctor (or the office nurse) about ANYTHING and EVERYTHING. Sometimes your doctor will ask questions about school, your friends, and family members. Sometimes your doctor will ask you personal things like how you’re feeling or what you like to do in your free time. The more your doctor knows about you, the better he or she is able to answer your questions or concerns.
Your doctor needs ALL of your health information. He or she cannot help you unless you give them the entire story. Even minor things can be important to treating the overall problem. If you feel like it’s too hard to say your problems or questions out loud, then bring a written list to hand to your doctor at the appointment. That means that you need to tell him or her if you are on a special diet (or have an eating disorder), if you are having sex or planning to have sex, if you are drinking or taking drugs, etc. Your doctor is not trying to pry into your personal life, but rather understand your situation and provide you with reliable information to keep you safe and healthy. Your doctor will keep this information confidential. For example, if you are planning to have sex, your doctor will discuss condoms and other forms of birth control and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV. If you suspect you might have a STD, every state allows for teens to be tested and treated without your parents knowing. Your partner will need to be treated as well. In many states, you have the right to family planning services, including birth control and emergency contraception, without permission from your parents.
Your doctor can help you plan a way to talk with your parents about almost any topic. Believe it or not, it’s your doctor’s job to help you with this. If you need to tell your parents something difficult, like you’re pregnant, depressed, have an eating disorder, have a drug problem, or even that you’re failing some classes in school, you absolutely should ask your doctor for help. Your doctor can help you think through a plan so that you, or you and your doctor together, can tell your parents in the best way. Your doctor can also refer you to other programs that handle your specific issue.
What you should do if you don’t like or trust your doctor
Parents want you to get the best medical care available, and it’s your right to have a doctor who makes you feel comfortable and treats you with respect. If you’re not comfortable talking with him or her for any reason, 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 treating teens.
Good questions to ask your doctor
The more questions you ask, the more you’ll discover about your body. And when you know what’s going on with your body, you can take better control of your own health — today and in the future.
- Questions for an illness or symptom:
- Can you draw me a picture or show me what’s wrong? Sometimes medical terms can be confusing, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- What causes this type of problem?
- Is this serious?
- Will there be any long-term effects of this problem?
- Can I give this illness to someone else, and if so, how and for how long? When can I return to school?
- Are there any activities or foods I should avoid until I’m better?
- How can I prevent this from happening again?
- Questions for medications:
- What does this medicine do?
- What will happen if I don’t take it?
- What are the side effects?
- How long should I take it? Should I stop the medicine if I feel back to normal?
- What if I accidentally miss a dose?
- If I don’t notice any improvement, how long should I wait before calling you?
- Questions for tests and treatments:
- Why is this test needed?
- What will happen if I don’t get the test?
- Are there any risks involved?
- Are there any side effects?
- How should I prepare for the test or treatment?
Your doctor is an excellent resource for reliable, responsible, accurate information on a wide variety of topics. You should not hesitate to share your concerns with him or her. Being responsible about your health is another step forward towards adulthood.