Dr. Gellner: Teenagers are hard enough to decode, but how do you as a parent talk to them about health concerns?
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Dr. Gellner: As a mom of a teenager, I'm glad that he's comfortable talking to me about just about anything. Sometimes he's a little too open, and I'm like, "Dude, I really don't want to know about that." But inside I'm actually saying, "Yes, I must have done something right because I've earned the trust of my son to come to me with any questions or concerns and not just because I'm a doctor."
Both of my boys are good about talking to me, but some kids are just a little more private and not comfortable talking about things with their parents, maybe not even with their friends. So how do you build that trust and start that conversation?
Well, your pediatrician can help break the ice. At well visits, starting at age 12 I give my patients the opportunity to talk to me privately about any concerns. Some of them take me up on it. Others are like, "No, I don't have any questions at all," and some are more, "I talk to my parents about everything, so I'm cool with them staying in the room."
Letting them know that they can talk with their doctor about anything sometimes really helps. In fact, there are some months that I do so many teen well visits that I joke with the parents that the theme of today's visit is if you have any questions or concerns about anything, talk to your parents. Don't talk to your friends, they'll give you all sorts of weird answers. If your parents don't know, talk to me, and if I don't know, I'm pretty sure I know people I can ask who will have the right answers.
Next, you can just bring up this stuff in everyday conversation. Be nonchalant about it so it's no big deal. Just be like, "Hey, remember that knee pain you had a little while ago? How's that going?" Or, "It's been about two months since I bought you deodorant last. Are you running low?" "Any other changes with your body you have questions about?" The more casual you are about it, the less likely your teen will be to get suspicious that you're digging for information.
The biggest key to getting the most out of your teen is to be open. Let them know that whatever their concern is, first, you're not going to laugh about it. While it may seem silly or no big deal to you, it might be to them. Let them know that you're available to listen anytime they need you and finally let them know that if it's something that concerns you too, you will get them in to see their pediatrician so you can get the correct answers you and your teen needs and find a solution to make them better.
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