Preparing kids for independence and adulthood brings many challenges for parents — teaching teens to drive, negotiating later curfews, researching colleges, discussing tough topics, to name just a few.
Among these hurdles is helping teens start managing their own health care. It can be hard to let go — after all, mom and dad have been handling the doctors' appointments, prescriptions, immunizations, and countless other medical concerns since their kids were born.
But it's important to guide teens toward taking on this responsibility. After all, parents won't always be around to manage their children's health care — and in most cases, once their kids become adults, legally they won't be allowed to.
And keep in mind that the decisions made in the teen years about things like alcohol, drugs, healthy eating, exercise, sex, and smoking can have long-term consequences — even if teens feel invincible. Becoming more invested in their own health care lets teens learn more about and understand the potential outcomes of choices they make now.
At what age are teens able to start taking some control? It can vary: factors like a teen's maturity level, health issues, and ability to keep track of the details all play a role, as does a parent's willingness to relinquish control.
So, how can parents start handing over the reins? It can begin by talking about medical topics in age-appropriate ways with their kids; for instance, discussing medications they take and why, or teaching kids with chronic conditions ways to help care for their medical equipment. Maybe your teenage son or daughter is ready to handle filling and refilling his or her own prescriptions.
It's important for moms and dads to let their adolescents have some private time to talk with the health care provider. During puberty and the teen years, kids are likely to have questions or issues that they're not comfortable discussing with a parent in the room. (But be assured that a doctor who feels that a patient who might be at risk for self-harm or harming another will alert a parent.)
If you think your child might need additional help with teen issues, consider having your son or daughter meet with an adolescent medicine specialist. These doctors not only are well-versed in the care of teens' physical health problems but also have additional training in helping their patients deal with risky behaviors and mental health concerns.
It's also wise to talk about health insurance and medical records to older teens. Although young adults can stay on their parents' plan until age 26 under the health care reform bill, many will be on their own well before that — and eventually all will have to know how to navigate the insurance system and keep track of their records.
Reviewed by: Stephen Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: December 2011
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