Teens should get yearly check-ups, as visiting the doctor, when well, has many necessary benefits as they approach adulthood.
I recently took my teenage daughter for her yearly "well-child" appointment. I admit we've missed a few years. The busy-ness of life, combined with prioritizing doctor visits when children are sick, caused me to sometimes skip health exams for my older children. Yet, while we were there I was struck by the significance of teen checkups, and how beneficial it was for her to meet with her doctor to discuss her whole health.
We model healthy routines for our children. Family habits form expectations for how eating, exercise, and preventative care should look. Teenagers are closer to becoming adults and forming their own expectations for wellness. When teens develop the rhythm of a yearly check-up, they are preparing to care for their bodies when their parents no longer book appointments.
In addition to any immunizations, the doctor will check your teen's growth and weight gain for changes. As opposed to a sports physical, which looks for a baseline of health, a thorough yearly physical will flag health problems such as lack of growth, anemia, or eating disorders. When the doctor is seeing your child each year, the baseline becomes your child at their healthiest, not a standard established by the state.
When we talk with our doctor openly about health, we are talking to an expert who sees bodies all day long! This provides a resource for knowledge but also for normalizing. As teenagers go through puberty, they can feel worried about what they experience.
Remember pregnancy? We went to our prenatal exams to monitor growth and do screenings. But admit it. We also went just to hear those precious words when we mentioned our gums were bleeding: "Oh, that's normal."
Don't underestimate the power of positive affirmation with teenagers. Even if we encourage them often as parents, when the doctor says, "You're doing great. You are right on track," those words matter.
As a parent, give your teen the space to meet with the health care professional alone and discuss concerns about their body, sexual or mental health, or drug and alcohol use. They may feel a different kind of safety in a clinical setting. You want your adolescent to be able to express questions and fears without worrying about your reaction.
If your teenager is hesitant to go to well-visits, make sure the doctor is the right fit. The pediatrician who has seen your child since infancy could make the transition to adolescence with your teen. Or, it could be time to look for a Family Practitioner. Do the work and take the time to find a clinician with whom your teen feels comfortable.
It's okay to interview a few health care professionals. Again, you are modeling practices for your kid that they will remember in adulthood. Finding the right doctor can take some work but it is important work. Your teen's wellness is invaluable, as is your teen being empowered to care for their own health as they approach adulthood.