Adolescence is the path from childhood to adulthood. It’s an important time for the development of independence and self discovery, and can lead to the formation of lifelong behaviors as well as risk taking. Both parents and teens can benefit from a strong relationship with a pediatrician to help navigate this important stage in life.
Babies are seen by a doctor routinely through their first five years of life. Unfortunately, as they get older, many adolescents receive their health care through visits to an urgent care facility when they’re sick, drop-in sports physical clinics each summer before camp, or before school starts in the fall.
This type of health care doesn’t allow adolescents to build a relationship with a physician, nor does it promote independence in making healthy decisions. It also leads to many young adults not being protected against high-risk illnesses like meningitis. We now have vaccines for adolescents and adults against Varicella (Chicken Pox), Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis (Whooping Cough), Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and bacterial meningitis. With the HPV vaccine, young women and men have protection against the virus that causes cervical cancer and genital warts well before exposure to the virus occurs.
Yearly checkups give pediatricians the opportunity to offer appropriate vaccines, discuss health concerns and high-risk behaviors – while performing a thorough physical exam. And because chronic illness in adulthood often starts with lifestyle choices made in adolescence, blood work is often performed to assess a teen’s risk for high cholesterol and heart disease. This interaction leads to discussions about disease prevention, and may help curb unhealthy behaviors before they follow adolescents into adulthood. During a yearly checkup, discussions can also address sports-related injuries, as well as injuries and illnesses related to risky activities.
While urgent care clinics are convenient, a practitioner in this setting may not talk to your young adult about rehabilitation of an injury, vaccines, obesity, mental health, safe driving, addiction or sexual behaviors. Pediatricians, on the other hand, develop relationships and take the time to discuss these topics to help adolescents grow into healthy adults.
Dr. Heather Joyce is a Mercy Clinic pediatrician with Mercy Children’s Hospital.