I ran into a teenage patient today at the office waiting to be seen by my colleague and was so happy to see him and his mom. It was like seeing an old friend. I hugged them both and we caught up for a couple of minutes. We chatted about the oldest in the family, now getting his MBA, the next oldest, finishing up college, and then the two left at home. I reminisced about how we barely could go a week without seeing each other at the office or around town and now that the kids are older we never run into each other. The mom then said, ‘Well now that they bring in docs to do the sports physicals at school and they’re never sick we’re barely here!’
I was caught a little off guard. Of course I’ve known for years that all the schools bring in folks (not pediatricians typically) to do assembly line check ups for sports eligibility but I thought that this mom saw the added value that seeing me brought. I figured she understood the difference a good pediatrician can bring to the well visit, not to mention the screening tests like lipid panels, vitamin D assessments, and vaccine updates. I guess I was wrong.
If this mom was ready to accept a sports check up at school as adequate, who else was willing to as well? Her kids have even had some chronic health issues (that they’ve luckily outgrown) and some school issues as well (that they have navigated well). And yet apparently I haven’t done a good enough job of explaining how a tween/teen check up with us is different, MORE than just a heart check and scoliosis screen to make sure the kiddo is safe to play.
Some teenagers who aren’t playing sports have no forms to complete each year. They are even more likely to fall off the annual well visit bandwagon. Scheduling visits can be tough with teenagers schedules, parent work schedules and office hours but there are so many good reasons to make the time.
The adolescent well visit in my office involves having a conversation about early signs of anxiety and depression, about substance use and abuse, about sex and sexuality, about relationships with parents and peers. We will discuss healthy eating for athletics and life, discuss how to be physically active even if you hate sports. We talk about periods and condoms and chlamydia and cancer screening. We talk about screen time and social media and their links to anxiety and depression. We talk about sleep and driving habits. We talk about body image and bullying, racism and sexism; we talk about academic successes and struggles and the importance of keeping it all in perspective. We talk about increasing independence and encourage parents to back off sometimes or get back involved sometimes. This is just the start. Each adolescent brings his or her own agenda and through our open dialogue often other topics get discussed as well.
We do all of this AND we make sure the adolescent is safe to play sports. We do screening tests for heart health and make sure kids have the vaccines they need for cancer prevention and college.
We may not be at your adolescent’s football or volleyball practice in August but I promise having a well visit at our office is worth your time and energy. Even if you get the sports form done at school, make time for a well visit each year for your adolescent. We’ll have some of the conversations you may be reluctant to start and sometimes teens talk to us when they may not talk to you.
Plus we get to catch up 🙂