It is easy to overlook your child’s health during their teen years. They have successfully passed through their younger years when sickness was more common, and many formative physiological processes were completed. During their adolescence, they are rapidly growing and probably appear healthy. That is why almost half of all parents forgo annual checkups for their teens.
A number of studies indicate that teens are the least likely age group to visit a physician. One analysis of 300,000 Minnesota teens found that almost a third did not see a doctor from age 13 to 17, and 40 percent only had a single preventive care visit. This is primarily attributable to resistance from teens as well as complacency on the part of parents. Insurance was not an issue as all subjects were fully covered.
Unfortunately, teens are susceptible to a variety of health issues that can be treated if identified early. Although teen years are less critical in the maturation process, they are still very important in physical and, especially, psychological development. Preventive care in these formative years not only identify any disruptive health conditions that may interfere with growth, but positive physician input can help optimize development.
Among the most important considerations during the teen years is diet. Many teens are likely to develop poor eating habits that may lead to health conditions like obesity, anorexia or bulimia. These are serious health issues that may inhibit physiological and mental development, as well as produce lifelong medical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes or anemia.
Although teens often engage in robust physical activities during this period, more physicians are seeing more sedentary habits due to the growing prevalence of digital entertainment. While young children are highly energetic and active, this level of activity is not maintained through adolescence. A National Health and Nutrition Examination report used activity trackers on people aged 6 to 84, and found that teens are as inactive as 60 year old subjects. Half of teen boys and 75 percent of teen girls failed to fulfill the recommended hour of moderate to strenuous activity per day.
While physical components of development are often the most visible, teens primarily develop mentally in this late childhood. Behavioral patterns mature and solidify in this period which is why an expert opinion from a medical professional may prove invaluable. Many parents often misinterpret inappropriate adolescent behavior and fail to recognize warning signs of mental health problems like depression and anxiety. Almost one in five teens suffers from depression, but less than a third obtain treatment.
Although linked to mental health, substance abuse is also extremely common among teens due to peer pressure to conform with anti-social norms. Almost 78 percent of American teens have imbibed alcohol, and more than 42 percent have used illicit substances. This kind of behavior is extremely dangerous as young people are much more likely to develop addiction issues than older substance abusers. Without accurate diagnosis and intervention, many young people will spiral into a life-threatening substance abuse problem.
There are many reasons why your teen should be getting preventive care on a regular basis, but the most important is that it might save their life. About 1,700 teens die annually from cancer, heart disease or congenital deformities, and this only constitutes 11 percent of teen deaths. Given the size of the teen population, this may not seem like a large threat, but it would be a heartbreaking burden to know that if you had caught the early signs of one of these conditions, your child might still be alive.
Medical experts recommend that teens visit a physician at least once a year, more often if there is a chronic medical condition or if there is an illness. During these visits, the physician may perform the following services:
- Height, weight and blood pressure measurements
- Standard tests for anemia or cholesterol
- Check males for hernias or testicular cancer
- Screen for sexually transmitted diseases
- Instruct females on how to conduct a self breast exam; perform a pelvic examination
- Evaluate hearing and vision
- Check for tooth decay, jaw or gum diseases
- Evaluate mental health
Update any out of date immunizations for
- Chicken pox
- Human papilloma virus
In addition to performing a variety of evaluation services, physicians may provide important information about health maintenance for your teen that may help prevent the occurrence of more common teen health issues like depression, substance abuse or sports injuries. This advice may range across numerous topics including:
- Diet and exercise regimen
- Use of tobacco and nicotine delivery products
- Safety advice for sports and physical activities like biking
- How to avoid intoxicated driving
- Social issues
- Best practices for sexual activity
- Conflict avoidance
Although a doctor is not a substitute for a parent, they are often important resources that more families should take advantage of. Teens may find it easier to discuss more sensitive topics that may be too uncomfortable to bring up with family members. The promise of confidentiality and a broader set of experiences with many teens and young adults may make medical professionals a more appealing confidante.
If you have a full-term health insurance policy, then you should know that preventive care is usually free of charge. Under the Affordable Care Act, annual checkups and a wide variety of preventive care services like immunizations, depression screenings, and women’s health are included in all full-term health plans. You should alert your family physician when you make the appointment for your teen that it is only for preventive care so they know which free services to include.
In addition to free preventive care, the ACA also allows you to keep your children on your family health plan up to age 26. If your child does not have health coverage, you may wish to consider an ACA health plan, Medicaid or CHIP. To learn more about available health plans in your area, please visit Boost Health Insurance.