If you are a parent of teens or soon to be teens you are probably prepared for many growing older ”rites of passage.” For example, the first day of high school, first date and first driver’s license; but you are often not prepared for another big event… the first time you are asked to leave the room during your child’s office visit. You were the one who held them after every blood draw, vaccine, stitch and broken bone. Why are you now being asked to go to the waiting room? You may look at your sweet 13 year old expecting them to throw a fit and latch onto your leg begging you to stay, but instead they don’t want you to let the door hit you on the way out. What? Why?
First, despite the fact you changed hundreds of diapers, that was 13 or more years ago. Your 14 year old boy does not want mom in the room during a hernia exam. Would you want him to come to your gyn visits? Just like you stopped giving them baths, this is something they need privacy for now.
Second, it is something they have to learn to do on their own. You teach them how to balance a checkbook, do laundry and drive. This is another responsibility they need to learn on their path to adulthood. A pre-work physical when they are 21 cannot be the first time they have ever talked to a doctor alone.
Third, kids might not tell their parents everything. Sometimes they might even be trying to protect their parents. I have spoken with suicidal teens who didn’t want to tell their parents about their depression because they knew how sad it would make them. My job is to actually help a teen talk to their parents about big things like suicide, depression and bullying. I also talk about the smaller things. For example, most teen girls are not going to talk to dad about their periods. As a physician I have no idea which teens are talking to their parents and, as you know, being a teen is tough. I need to be able to talk honestly with my teen patients about smoking, depression, bullying, and sex.
A suggestion I would make to all parents is to use the time after a physical as a teaching opportunity and ask if they have questions. Talk about things you mostly avoid talking about like drugs, sex etc. Lots of kids are more comfortable talking to a parent than the doctor they see once a year. It is okay to stumble on words, blush and get embarrassed. Just remind yourself this is simply one more step toward your kids growing up healthy and independent.