There’s a lot to deal with when raising a teenager. Newfound independence, increased school work, changing friend groups, and hormones — lots of hormones. You may be wondering when your child should become active in their health care. Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s Medical Director Dr. Michael McCormick sat down to address some of the most common questions on helping educate your child about their health care and how to get them involved in their care.
And, with 35 years’ worth of family practice experience (not to mention raising five kids of his own) Dr. McCormick has gained some valuable insight.
What can I do to help my child or teenager better understand their medical care now that they’re older?
It always starts with open conversation. Give your child more responsibility when you go to the doctor. Have them fill out the forms. Let them go into the exam room by themselves (if the doctor's office allows) for at least a portion of the visit. Give them some time to privately discuss things with their care provider that they might find embarrassing to discuss in front of you, the parent. Let the child assume some responsibility when it comes to their own health care. That way they start to take more of an ownership of their health. It gives the child a chance to do the talking.
What’s an appropriate age for my child to get involved in their care?
Every situation and kid is different, but once they hit 13 they can start to share in the decision-making. This gives them a chance to get comfortable with talking to their doctor while still having a parent there as a support system.
What can I do to help prepare my child to become educated about doctor visits?
Talk to them about your family’s health history. If there are any hereditary illnesses such as heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, mental health disease, substance abuse disorder, it’s important that they know. Some of these subjects can be uncomfortable, but it’s better to be open and it gives them time to process the information.
What are some questions I can ask my teenager about their care preferences?
You always want to ask open-ended questions. Be careful about asking ‘yes’ and ‘no’ questions. By asking them, “what are you comfortable with…” or “what are your thoughts on…” you give them the chance to answer without swaying them one way or another.
These types of conversations need to happen early in order for your child to know their thoughts and choices are respected. But, as a parent, you always have the responsibility and right to do what’s in the best interest of the child.
With the prevalence of social media and the availability of “health resources” online, how can I be sure my child is getting correct, age-appropriate health information?
This is just another reason why it’s so important for your child to have a doctor who they know and trust. When they have a non-judgmental, trustworthy doctor who they can talk to and can ask questions, they will be getting legitimate information from a reputable medical source instead of a friend or social media influencer.
What are the benefits of my child having a personal doctor?
Regular care and developing a relationship with a personal doctor is important at any age. But just like with adults, it can fall by the wayside, especially after age 14 because that’s when scheduled immunizations are finished.
Your child may come in for sports physicals, but it’s important they see a doctor for a yearly preventive exam. There’s a medical necessity, in addition to building a trusted relationship with a doctor. When they see the same personal doctor, that doctor can not only monitor their growth and overall health, but they can monitor their mental well-being as well. When an adolescent comes in regularly the care practitioner can discuss healthy and unhealthy lifestyles (drugs, smoking, alcohol use), sexual education and provide mental health checks — specifically screening for depression, which has been on the rise for the past decade External Site.
As a parent, what can I do to help the child/doctor relationship?
If you notice a change in your child’s behavior or symptoms, pick up the phone or communicate with your child’s doctor about the issue. That way, the doctor can bring it up with the child and ask them the appropriate questions to hopefully find a solution.
If you give a heads up, the doctor then has the background information to ask spot-on questions that will give more than a one-word answer. Most health care providers will really appreciate the insight.
If your child is ready to become more involved in their care and has expressed interest in finding a new doctor, log in to myWellmark® Opens New Window together to search for health care providers near you and read reviews from other Wellmark members.