Growing Up: The Importance of Teen Wellness Exams
Adolescence seems to be one of those times while kids are growing up when we, as pediatricians, don’t see our patients very often. They usually are healthy overall and rarely get sick, so they don’t have much need to come and see their doctor. With the exception of those with chronic conditions such as asthma, or athletes who need their yearly sports physical, sometimes these patients can go years between their doctor’s visits. There are a few reasons, though, why it is important to keep up with those ‘well child visits’ at least every year or so.
Staying Current on Vaccines
Several vaccines are commonly given during the teenage years including Tdap (a booster for Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis, the cause of Whooping Cough). Whooping Cough is on the rise in South Dakota and surrounding states, and children are due for this important vaccine booster at age 11. Another important vaccine given at age 11 is Menactra, which protects against a kind of bacteria that causes meningitis – a rare, but very serious infection of the brain and spinal cord. Vaccination against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) with the vaccine Gardisil is often discussed with patients during the teenage years but it can be given as young as age 11. Originally intended for women, this vaccine is now approved for men as well, as HPV is also associated with cancers of the neck and throat, in addition to cervical cancer in women.
Our recommendations regarding vaccines continue to change over time, so adolescents may be in need of a booster dose that they didn’t need in years past. For instance, we used to administer a single dose of the Varicella vaccine (which protects against Chicken Pox), but several years ago, we began recommending a second dose. Depending on when your child was last seen, they may be due for a booster shot against Varicella for more complete immunity.
Monitoring Healthy Development
Sometimes, problems that were not apparent in childhood come to attention during the adolescent growth phase. It is important that your child’s growth and development is closely monitored over time to make sure everything is still proceeding normally. During this phase of rapid growth, other problems like acne and scoliosis can also develop.
Discussing a Healthy Lifestyle
This is also a time to talk with adolescents and discuss aspects of their own well-being to help promote a healthy lifestyle. It is also important do discuss other aspects somewhat unique to teenagers such as safe driving, the risks of experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and sexuality.
As a heads-up to parents, as children mature into their teenage years, we often like to speak with them one-on-one, and we may ask you to briefly step out of the room. The intent is not to keep you out of the loop, but to make sure your child has a chance to address their own questions or concerns in private with their physician. I always encourage adolescents to be completely open in their communication with their parents, and they are made aware that there are limits to the confidentiality of the matters we discuss during that time. These teenagers will soon be young adults who will be responsible for their own lives and decisions regarding their health, and these sessions allow that transition to begin to take place.
They sure grow up fast! So if your child has transitioned from playing with cars to driving them, make sure they are also up to date on their visits with the doctor. As long as the adolescent doesn’t mind the Mickey Mouse prints on the wall, most pediatricians are happy to see their patients until they graduate from high school.