If you have a teenager and have brought them in for a physical recently, you’ve probably been asked by your child’s doctor to leave the room for a few minutes at some point during the visit. Understandably, this may create some anxiety for you, the parent, as well as prompt many questions:
- What are they talking about?
- Does the doctor know something about my child that I don’t?
- My child tells me everything, so this really isn’t necessary!
- What if the doctor finds out something that I should know?
The answers to the above questions may vary considerably based on the situation, but in general, we routinely ask the parents of an adolescent (aged 12 years and older) to leave the room at some point so that we can discuss things that your teen may be uncomfortable discussing in front of his parents. Sometimes kids need a trustworthy adult to talk to or confide in, and when they’re not comfortable talking with a parent about it, we hope we can serve as a resource for that child.
We’ll usually start by talking about life at home, school activities, sports, and friends. Your child’s doctor will also bring up more sensitive issues such as dating, sexual activity, and drug use, letting any signals your child may give us guide the discussion. We usually end by talking about mental health issues and briefly screening for depression. If your child has other things they’d like to bring up, we’ll talk about that, too. We try to create an atmosphere that fosters an open, honest dialog with your child.
To that end, if we do talk about a sensitive topic that your child would like to keep confidential, in most situations, we will honor that request. There are many laws governing adolescent confidentiality for topics like drug use, sexually transmitted diseases, abuse, and pregnancy, and we abide by them. But we do encourage teens to talk with their parents, because we feel that an open discussion between a parent and child is very valuable. If need be, we will help facilitate that discussion. Certain things we will absolutely tell you about, such as suicidal or homicidal thoughts, because your child will need immediate help in those situations.
Most of the time, the adolescent does not have much to talk about, which should be very reassuring! Prior to your child’s visit, we encourage you to sit down and have an open dialog about some of these things. Remind them that if they are not comfortable talking with you, their doctor is an excellent resource. And always remember: we have your child’s best interests at heart. We will treat your child as if he were our own and, if there is a problem, get them the resources they need.