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Talking to Your Doctor

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Life gets way more complex when you're a teen. On top of all of the emotional and physical changes you go through, there are more choices and decisions to make and more stresses from school, sports, jobs, family, and even friends.

What one thing is most important to you in a doctor?

So who can you talk to about your physical and emotional concerns? Sometimes friends or parents can be helpful, but you can always talk to your doctor too.

Why Do I Need to Talk With My Doctor?

When you were a little kid, your parents took care of things like scheduling your doctors' appointments, getting your prescriptions, and making sure you took your medicine. If you had a pain or a worry, your parents were the ones to take care of it. But now that you're getting older, you may want — or be expected — to take on more responsibility for your health. It's all part of becoming an adult and taking charge.

As you get older, the issues you face can get more complicated and personal. Health issues that might have been simpler before now can include concerns about things such as sexual development, emotions, or weight problems. It's important to find someone to talk to who is both knowledgeable and someone you can trust.

Many teens are comfortable talking with their parents about almost any topic, at any time. But let's face it — not everyone is. Some teens — even though they have a fairly open relationship with their parents — just aren't comfortable talking about certain topics with their mother or father. What are they supposed to do?

Of course, they can always ask a friend — or go to the Internet. Sometimes, those places can be a good start. But friends might not really know the answers you're looking for — and not every website is accurate or up to date.

That's where your doctor or nurse can help out.

Doctors and nurses are trained to help you with your health and emotional concerns. You can talk with them, they can ask you questions, and they can check out what worries you. That's their job.

Even if you feel embarrassed at first about raising personal subjects (like physical development or sexual health), it's helpful to know that doctors deal with those concerns — and all sorts of things — every day. And sometimes ignoring the risks of not talking to your doctor can outweigh the few moments of discomfort you may feel in raising sensitive health concerns.

Special Concerns for Teens

Maybe you're developing later or earlier than your friends and want to know what's going on. There might be times you feel more depressed or angry than you used to. New sexual feelings and behaviors can be confusing, too. Topics you never had to think about before, such as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and pregnancy, may suddenly be on your radar.

How Do I Discuss Embarrassing Things?

It's perfectly normal to feel nervous when talking with your doctor about things like sex, drugs, eating problems, weight concerns, depression, suicidal thoughts, and even body odor. You should be able to talk to your doctor about everything, but we all know that's easier said than done. Being examined and questioned about your body can also be intimidating, especially when the doctor needs to examine you in places you have always considered private, such as your genitals or breasts.

But there are things you can bear in mind to make it easier:

Do My Parents Have to Be Involved?

Lots of teens feel comfortable talking to their parents about all of their medical issues, but others prefer to keep certain aspects of their health private. Because parents usually need to stay involved in certain aspects of their child's medical care until that person reaches 18, it can help to find a "middle ground" that allows you to meet your privacy concerns and your parents' needs.

Here are some ideas on approaching your parents about taking charge of your medical care:

Can I Keep My Visit Private?

It's a good idea to talk to your parents first about these types of issues, and many people do. Your health is the most important thing. If talking to a parent or other responsible adult in your family isn't possible, you still need to get good care for yourself. That's where confidentiality comes in.

Confidential care means that your medical treatment stays between you and your doctor — you don't have to get a parent's permission. Confidentiality helps to ensure honesty and openness between a patient and a doctor. Most states ensure that teens can get confidential care for some sensitive medical matters, such as sexual health education and treatment, mental health issues like suicide and depression, and drug abuse. Sexual health education and treatment includes counseling, birth control, pregnancy care, and examinations and treatment for STDs.

So where can you get these services? Many family doctors will agree to treat their teen patients confidentially, so you may be able to approach you own family doctor and ask if he or she will do so. If you're not sure whether your treatment will be confidential, ask beforehand: Some doctors will treat their teen patients confidentially only when they have a parent's approval to do so. Most doctors agree to keep things confidential unless they feel their patient is either in danger or is a danger to others — in these cases, the doctor is obligated to inform the teen's parents.

Some schools offer health clinics to students during school hours. A teen also can visit a health clinic like Planned Parenthood or a gynecologist (a doctor who specializes in reproductive health) at a public health clinic to receive confidential advice and treatment on matters involving sexual health. If you don't want your parents to know and can't use their insurance, these clinics usually offer cheaper services or make it easy for teens to pay. Most school clinics and public health clinics that treat teens are very careful to maintain confidentiality.

Many parents are happy to have their teens see a doctor if they need to. Discuss with your parents the idea that you can see a doctor privately when you need to. Your doctor's office may need to call you with confidential test results. Let the doctor know the best way to reach you confidentially, such as a personal cell phone if you have one. Because the doctor's bill will need to be paid, talk with your parents and the doctor about how that can happen and still keep the visit confidential.

The more you know your body, the more you can be in control of your own health. Finding a doctor you can respect and who respects you, someone you can be open with, puts you on a great path to taking charge of your health for the rest of your life.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: January 2013

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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