Mohammed Solaiman, M.D.
Family Medicine, Primary Care
Your teen probably has a back-to-school to-do list that's a mile long. But be sure one item moves to the top: a health checkup or well-teen visit. Similar to the well-child visits that parents regularly schedule beginning when their children are born, well-teen visits are tailored especially for the ages when tweens and teens are undergoing significant physical and mental changes and challenges.
Well-teen visits typically start at age 11 and older. That's when most major health and social changes begin such as puberty, changing schools, forming new relationships and becoming more independent.
A 'temperature check' for overall health
Just as important as when children are younger, well-teen visits assess overall health and developmental benchmarks and ensure vaccinations are up to date.
By the time they are 11, children should have all childhood vaccinations and also receive shots for meningitis, HPV and a tetanus booster.
Typically, during the first part of the visit, the healthcare professional will talk with the parents or guardians and the child together. Then the healthcare professional will spend one-on-one time with the teen.
The second part of the visit focuses on health and wellness issues facing tweens and teens. These issues include nutrition, exercise, school performance, screen time, social media, safety at home and school, puberty, safe sex practices, relationships and mental health.
A mental health assessment is a crucial part of the visit. When a parent or guardian is in the room, the healthcare professional is observing how caregivers and children communicate, how children respond to questions — whether they turn to the adult to answer, engage in their own healthcare or if they're shy about talking in front of the adult.
To put children at ease, the healthcare professional often starts with questions about what makes them happy, what gives them confidence, what their strengths are, who their friends are and what they like to do. Then the conversation may turn to what bothers them, makes them sad or gives them stress.
The healthcare professional also will ask if teens have been or are in a relationship and if they feel safe in that relationship — whether the relationship is with a male, female or either sex. As most parents know, teens are pretty savvy about what makes them feel safe or unsafe when online. However, the healthcare professional will review cyberbullying, what to do if someone talks to the teen inappropriately and who to reach out to for help or support.
No matter a child's sexual identification, gender identity or orientation, the healthcare professional aims to express support and encourage them to seek support in their community — starting with their parents. The goal is to give them healthy avenues to cope with stress or anxiety due to relationships.
Before the healthcare professional invites the parents or guardians to rejoin the conversation, the provider will verify that it's OK with the teen to share information with the adults. While respecting the teen's privacy, the healthcare professional's role also can be one of facilitator to promote open communication between teens and their parents or guardians. Laws protect information about teen health, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and gender. Unless shared information poses direct, immediate harm to the child, it can remain confidential between the healthcare professional and the teen.
A well-teen visit can have a major effect on a child's health and well-being. Recommended annually, it's a time to identify any issues or concerns early and then follow up to monitor improvement or additional problems. The visit also begins laying the groundwork for teens to take charge of their healthcare as they move into adulthood.