Too much parental involvement means that many American teens aren’t learning how to manage their own health care, new survey results suggest.
“The majority of parents are managing teens’ health care visits, and their teens may be missing out on valuable opportunities to learn how to take ownership of their own health,” said Sarah Clark, associate director of the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at the University of Michigan.
“Having teens take the lead in responsibilities like filling out their own paperwork, describing their health problems, and asking questions during adolescence helps them gain experience and confidence in managing their health,” Clark said in a university news release.
Researchers questioned more than 1,500 parents of teens aged 13 to 18 years. Only one-third of parents said their teens had private discussions about their health with a doctor. And less than 10 percent said their teens can complete their health history form on their own.
Nearly 40 percent of parents surveyed said they alone — not their teen — would ask a doctor about health concerns, and only 15 percent of parents said their teen would speak on their own with a doctor about physical or emotional problems.
“Speaking with the doctor privately is important, not only to give teens a chance to disclose confidential information, but also to provide the opportunity for them to be an active participant in their own health care, without a parent taking over,” Clark added.
“Parents’ top reason for handling different aspects of the health care visit is that their teen would not be comfortable talking about these subjects — which may stem from the fact that they aren’t getting much practice,” she said.
Clark acknowledged that parents are naturally concerned about their child’s health and that letting their teens become independent in a health setting can be difficult. “But with parents’ guidance, these early opportunities will help teens prepare to navigate the health care system and take responsibility for their own health as they get older,” she said.
Clark suggested some ways parents can hand the medical reins over to their teenager. Before an appointment, encourage teens to write down any health issue or questions they have. When you arrive at the doctor’s office, have your teen check in at the registration desk and complete forms.
During the appointment, wait to speak so that your teen has time to explain any problems or ask questions, she advised.
The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases explains how teens can take charge of their health.