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Why adolescents need annual checkups

Parents have been checking up with me about whether they really need to bring their teenager in every year for a checkup. Well, let me examine that concern and provide some advice on this important topic since teens’ annual visits to a health care professional should occur more frequently than they actually do.

Here’s why: Adolescents change so much year to year in terms of their physical, mental and emotional well-being, it’s important that they check in for a checkup. Topics such as their own reproductive health, how to deal with avoidance of drugs, tobacco or alcohol, or even eating disorders, along with changes in pubertal development and sexual identity are all possible topics worth discussing with a teenager.

Time for confidential

conversations

While parents can be helpful and should be talking openly about health and relationship issues with their teenage children, it is often easier said than done, and that is where your teen’s health professional can enter and have a discussion at least annually with your teen on these topics and more.

In addition, your teen’s health care professional might become the role model and mentor your adolescent needs to stay healthy. That health care professional might also be the one person your adolescent can turn to to ask difficult questions confidentially when it comes to disclosing struggles they may have with health problems, relationships, peer pressures or other emotional difficulties.

Finally, there is no better way to be sure your adolescent is ready for school and sports, and protected against serious infections through immunizations than by having a yearly health maintenance visit.

Tips for routine wellness

¯ Start by making sure your teen has that yearly checkup, even if vaccines are not to be administered on a given year.

¯ Encourage your teen to be open and honest with their health care professional, who is always ready to listen and be nonjudgmental. In fact, confidentiality is always maintained unless a teen demonstrates a reason to harm themselves or someone else. The more consistently a teen visits their health professional each year to earn that person’s trust, the more helpful that visit will be.

¯ Most importantly, remind your teen that the more they know about their bodies, the more they can be in control of their own health as they get older.

Hopefully, tips like this will be easy ones to check up on when it comes to insisting your teen visit their health care professional not just when they’re physically ill, but for an annual visit to insure they stay physically and emotionally healthy in the year ahead.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and NBC5.

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