I've often written about the importance of finding the right pediatrician for you and your baby—one with whom you feel confident and at ease. But, as your child matures, it's extremely important he or she shares that level of comfort. Why? Prepubescent modesty or a budding independence may inhibit them from sharing their health questions and concerns with you.
When tweens and teens become less willing to talk about their health, it's our responsibility, as parents, to help them make the most of their checkups. How? Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg, pediatrician, author and mother of three, has five excellent suggestions and shares her insight:
1. Prioritize Healthy Skin—Help Get Acne Breakouts Under Control
- Whether it's spontaneous breakouts or more significant acne, skin issues can damage teens' self-image and affect how others perceive them.
- Even mild breakouts are considered a medical condition and can be treated by a pediatrician. At your teen's next appointment, ask for a skin care regimen recommendation. If you're concerned about cost, many insurance companies cover the acne treatments. Speak with your insurance provider about coverage.
- Unfortunately, acne can cause both physical and emotional scarring. Helping your teen to manage acne early may help prevent this.
- In a recent survey, teens with acne were more likely than teens without acne to be perceived as shy, nerdy and lonely. Nearly 60 percent of teens say they would stay off of Facebook for one year if they could get rid of their acne.
2. No Meat? No Problem—But Do Tell the Doctor
- Meat-free diets, whether vegan or vegetarian, are increasingly popular among today's teens.
- While this lifestyle choice can be perfectly healthy for your teen, make sure the pediatrician knows about it. The doctor will want to discuss food choices and may want to monitor blood levels of certain vitamins and minerals such as iron, B12, calcium and vitamin D to ensure your teen is getting adequate levels of these nutrients.
3. Sex, Lies and the Waiting Room
- While most pediatricians will ask your teen if he or she is sexually active, don't expect an honest answer if you are in the room. While nearly 40 percent of teens ages 15 to 19 report being sexually active, many teens say they will lie if asked this question in front of a parent.
- It's critical for pediatricians to know the truth, so try stepping out of the room during this portion of the discussion to encourage your child to answer candidly. By allowing your teen to engage in an honest dialogue with their pediatrician, not only will they get their embarrassing questions answered, but the doctor can provide information and facts to reduce adolescent risky behaviors such as smoking, alcohol, sex and texting while driving.
4. Do Talk Tattoos and Piercings
- Studies suggest that 10 percent of teenagers have tattoos, and that 25 to 35 percent of high school and college students have body piercings. Whether your teen has already been inked or pierced, or is considering it, ask your doctor to share the risks of these procedures with your teen.
- Also important: If your teen's tattoo or piercing is in a concealed location that's out of sight to the pediatrician, make sure to let the doctor know about it. Tattoos and piercings can cause potential skin infections, and blood-borne diseases such as HIV and hepatitis can be transmitted during the process. By telling the doctor, you can ensure that your teen receives the appropriate tests to diagnose and treat any complications.
5. Teen Angst vs. Depression
- It's not unusual for young people to experience "the blues" or occasionally rebel. While this behavior can be frustrating to parents, you (and your teen) are definitely in good company.
- However, if your teen is showing other signs such as poor performance in school, withdrawal from friends and activities or anger and change in sleeping or eating patterns, don't be afraid to mention this to your teen's pediatrician. It could be more than normal moodiness.
- Your pediatrician may recommend making an appointment with a therapist to address the issues your teen is facing, and suggest counseling or other interventions, if they might be helpful.
Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg is an attending physician at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, chief pediatric officer for RealAge.com and author of "The Smart Parent's Guide to Getting Your Kids Through Checkups, Illnesses, and Accidents: Expert Answers to the Questions Parents Ask Most" and "Good Kids, Bad Habits: The Real Age Guide to Raising Healthy Children."