Parents: Give Your Teens the Tools They Need to Manage Their Own Health

May 16, 2018

U.S. News
Neha Vyas, M.D.

As high school graduation looms, take steps to empower your departing teens.

THOUSANDS OF SENIORS are about to complete their high school education and move on to the next phase of their lives. For their parents, this is bittersweet. It's a chance to allow your children to grow and mature as adults, but at the same time, you recognize that their time with you at home is limited. Along with transitioning to their next phase of life, whether it's moving away to college, going to vocational school or getting a job, it's also time for many teenagers to transition out of their current health care arrangements and into one they take more ownership of.

As parents, we can help our teenagers with this journey. Over the next several months, as they increase their independence, we should provide them with a few simple steps to help them ease into this transition:

1. Allow them to go to doctor's visits themselves if they haven't already done so. Arm them with a note from you (if they're still minors) letting the doctor's office know it's OK they come alone and receive medical care. If your teens are moving to another town, know where they need to go to seek medical care, and know where their nearest pharmacy is for prescription drugs.

2. Show your child your insurance card, and find out when or she will need their own card if they've been receiving benefits under your plan.

3. If you manage your child's medication – perhaps you put it in front of them every day for them to take it – provide them the opportunity to take it themselves and to help them create a reminder system so they don't forget a dose. Some people find that setting an alarm on their smartphone helps; others need visual cues, like placing the medicine next to their toothbrush. Additionally, have them get used to carrying a list of their medications. Go over their medications and make sure they understand what they're taking each one for, plus what to do if they miss a dose. They should also be aware of what side effects to expect and how to contact their doctor's office if they accidentally take it incorrectly.

4. Help them engage in an active physician-patient relationship by providing a few questions that you would have asked if you were there during their visit with the doctor.

5. If your child is scheduled for a physical, check with their doctor's office to make sure they have an up-to-date immunization record. If they do not, provide them a copy of one that you secure from their school or from a physician they had seen previously.

6. Teach them the basics of a symptom diary. If your child has been experiencing a symptom such as a headache, or pain in a particular area, ask him or her to write down when it occurs, how often it occurs and if it's related to anything else they do, such as when they exercise or when they eat. This information will be valuable in helping your physician find out what is wrong.

7. Explain to your child what they can safely take for a cold, headache or stomach cramps. Have them be vigilant about their body and know when they should seek medical care.

8. Many teenagers are embarking on a time of greater freedom and choices, which could include being exposed to alcohol or illicit drugs. Make it clear where you stand on this subject, and have a plan in place for any deviations from expectations. Emphasize the importance of a good night's sleep, proper hygiene and exercise – the building blocks to good health.

9. Don't forget about mental health. Issues such as depression and anxiety tend to appear or worsen during these transition periods. Explore the resources that your teenager has available to them in their new environment, and review when they should seek help.

These next few months will pass in a blur, so enjoy your time with your teenager. If you start him or her off on the right path to manage their own health, and give them the support they need as they take ownership, you may be able to rest a little easier as your child moves on, knowing you've given them the tools to succeed.

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