When Should You Allow Your Teen to Talk With a Doctor Alone?

Teen talking to doctor
Ariel Skelley / Blend Images / Getty Images

Most parents readily attend each and every doctor's visit with their children. But at some point, there comes a time when it becomes appropriate for parents to step out of the way and allow a child to have some private time with a physician. Many parents aren't certain about when it becomes appropriate to allow a child an opportunity to talk to a doctor alone.

Why Private Time is Important

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends adolescents be given private time with their doctor starting at age 11.

That’s not to say parents shouldn't still attend appointments.In fact, it’s important for parents to offer insight about problems and to provide a thorough health history. Often, adolescents struggle to remember things like when a cough began or whether they've ever had a similar rash in the past.

It's also important for parents to speak with a pediatrician to gain clear instructions about any treatment. Speaking directly with the physician can give you an opportunity to ask questions and be made aware of any health issues that you should be monitoring. But that doesn't mean you need to stay for the entire appointment. 

A few minutes alone gives your child an opportunity to ask potentially embarrassing questions about puberty, sex, birth control, or anything else that she may not feel comfortable discussing in front of you. Sometimes teens worry that they’re not developing at the right pace or they fear that there’s something wrong with them.

Asking questions and gaining information from a pediatrician can put their minds at ease.

Private time gives the doctor an opportunity to ask questions about alcohol or drug use. It’s important for a doctor to know if a teen has experimented with substances or if a teen smokes cigarettes. Certain medications should not be prescribed if a teen uses substances and the doctor can warn of the dangers of substance abuse during a private conversation.

Although you may offer similar warnings, sometimes hearing the information from a doctor increases the chances a teen will take the information seriously.

A private meeting also allows a doctor to inquire about sexual activity. A teen may be given education on safety issues and a doctor can explains the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases. Teens may ask questions that they may be too embarrassed to ask anyone else.

It’s also a good time for a doctor to conduct a screening for mental health issues. Sometimes teens aren’t comfortable discussing symptoms of depression or anxiety in front of a parent. Meeting alone can give the doctor an opportunity to provide a teen with education on steps to stay mentally healthy.

What the Doctor Will Reveal To You

Adolescents have rights to confidentiality so the doctor cannot reveal to you the extent of what your child revealed during a private conversation. Don’t bother asking or prying because doctors have legal and ethical obligations that prevent them from disclosing private information.

A doctor will take action if there are serious safety concerns. If a teen reveals thoughts of suicide or a plan to hurt other people, a doctor must take steps to ensure that everyone will be safe. That may involve talking to you as well as referring a child for an assessment by a mental health professional.

Doctors are also mandated reporters of abuse and neglect. If your child reveals being physically, sexually, or emotionally abused, a doctor may need to report that information to child protective services for further investigation.

Giving Your Child Space

Some pediatricians politely ask parents to exit the room. But others, don’t think to do so. If your child’s pediatrician doesn’t bring up the subject, speak up and say, “I’m going to excuse myself for a few minutes in the event there’s anything you’d like to discuss privately.” Stepping out of the room for a few minutes and offering some private time with the doctor could be essential to your child's health and well-being.

Continue Reading