Teenagers also need routine annual well visits

Life can be hectic.  We all feel the effects of the “busyness” of our daily business, especially with the beginning of a New Year, when we tend to hyper-focus on our “to-do lists” and resolutions.  We can often forget to take care of ourselves and the ones we love.  For example, when was the last time your adolescent child visited their healthcare provider for a routine physical or well visit?   Was it more than a year ago?  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends for adolescents, as with young children, to engage in a routine well-child visit annually with their primary care physician.  It is essential to remember that during their teenage years, your child is growing into adulthood.  This is a time when they will experience significant developmental changes, both physiologically and emotionally.  It is imperative that your teen’s pediatrician remains involved, with consistent documented care, providing anticipatory guidance and the necessary screening tests.

Adolescents, like infants and young children, need important immunizations to protect them against seriously harmful diseases that can be prevented by vaccines.  Examples of these diseases include pertussis, tetanus, diphtheria, meningitis, and Human Papillomavirus (HPV).  HPV is a virus that can cause cervical cancer and genital warts.  Pediatricians, in accordance with AAP and Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, also recommend that teenagers receive a yearly influenza immunization.  The flu can be deadly, and the influenza vaccine is the best way to prevent serious illness, especially if your teenager has been diagnosed with a chronic medical condition like asthma.  Pediatricians will also assess whether your teenager’s growth and development are normal, confirming that pubertal progression is following the expected course.  Your adolescent’s physician can also provide advice related to nutrition and physical activity, giving them the opportunity to emphasize healthy habits and responsible life choices.  They will also measure your child’s vital signs, such as blood pressure, and order any screening laboratory tests that are clinically recommended.  During annual physicals and well visits, your pediatrician will identify and address school issues, screen for behavioral health concerns, and respond to any medical concerns or questions.  It is common for teenagers to have questions about their appearance, acne, or sexuality, and these concerns are better addressed by a trusted physician rather than having your adolescent searching the internet for answers.

It is paramount for adolescents, especially those with any chronic medical conditions, to continue to receive care from a primary care physician on a routine basis.  If your adolescent has one or more chronic conditions such as asthma, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), diabetes, or depression, please confirm with your healthcare provider the frequency that your teenager needs to be seen at their office.  Even if your adolescent hasn’t had an exacerbation or outbreak of their chronic medical condition, this does not eliminate the need for routine checkups.  It is always better to be safe than sorry with the ones we love.

Adolescence is a time of growth, exploration, and emerging independence.  As your teenager continues to grow and mature, it is crucial that they develop a trusted relationship with their pediatrician.  If your adolescent only comes to the medical office when they are sick, they will be missing out on the encouragement, guidance, and support a pediatrician can offer as part of a well visit.  Pediatricians will also refer your child to other caring professionals that can help them in areas of need beyond the bounds of a routine physical.  Therapists, counselors, dieticians, health coaches, dentists, and ophthalmologists are all members of your pediatrician’s team, and they are all trained to help your child live their life well.  Don’t forget in the busyness of life, to slow down and make time for you and your family’s health.

Johanna Vidal Phelan is a pediatrician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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