So, the *American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is suggesting to their doctors that it’s a good idea to have condoms available for their adolescent patients. They are trying to prevent STI’s and unintended pregnancies. Personally, my thought is…what took you so long?
When I thought about having the condoms available, I imagined a lovely, inviting bowl filled with a variety of pretty colors, flavors, sizes, and types of condoms. I’ve actually seen that! However, it was in a university health office. I’m guessing we likely will not see the rainbow of condom options sitting out on the “Welcome” desk in the local pediatric office (but maybe in an exam room specially outfitted for adolescents??).
Condoms? Pediatric office? Seriously?? Well, yes. It may seem if a child is seeing a “kid’s doctor” they are not old enough to be having sex, but some kids are having sex in (gulp!) middle school. It sounds scary, but this is why it is so important for the physician/healthcare providers caring for your children to have an open mind and an open door when it comes to discussing these issues. Conversations between the adolescent and his or her physician/healthcare provider are crucial for their lifetime health; sexual health being just one aspect. This is also a good time for a medical conversation about drug and alcohol use as well. Heaven knows they have already received the parent/guardian “conversation”. (“Don’t do it. It’s bad for you. You will die – if not from the drugs or sex, it will be from being grounded in your room with no social media to keep you alive.”) I’ve had that conversation with my kids. Um.…it doesn’t work.
Encouraging your adolescent to spend some time alone with the physician (without YOU listening in on the private conversation) can help establish trust between not only the healthcare provider and your child, but also between you and your child. I feel that the message your child is getting from you is, “Hey, you are growing up. I trust you and respect you enough to have a personal life that you are responsible for.”
Of course, after the check-up you can go in for the “dig” – but do it gently. Open the door for conversation, but don’t force it. We all know how well THAT turns out. I would suggest an opening line like, “Was there anything the doctor talked about that you didn’t understand?” or “Did you feel comfortable talking to the doctor?” or “I know the doctor can provide a lot of good information. However, if you have any questions that come to mind after your visit, you can ask me. I know it might be difficult, but I love you and care for you and I am here to help.” Just leave it at that. You can try saying, “ARE YOU HAVING SEX??!!” but I can pretty much guarantee NO one will leave happy after THAT conversation.
You may find that your child will say “it’s fine!” right away. He or she is processing the information that was given. However, don’t be surprised if later on, out of the blue, they approach you with a random question or comment. Stay cool….like you talk about this stuff all the time. I know you are freaking out inside, but you can freak out later, when they aren’t looking. Granted, you can’t hide the sweat pouring profusely from your brow, but they probably won’t notice. Answer their question to the best of your ability. If you are not sure of the answer, tell them that they asked an excellent question and you will find out the answer. At this age they pretty much think you don’t know anything anyway, so that won’t prevent them from coming back to you with more questions later on down the road. In fact, they will likely appreciate your honesty.
From personal experience, and from what I learned studying adolescent behavior, it seems wise to start encouraging private healthcare provider conversations in early middle school. You are laying the groundwork of trust for future conversations – when the topics may become a little more intense. You are also teaching your child how to be an effective healthcare consumer and personal advocate for their own health and well-being. It will serve them well when they head out to college and you aren’t there to help them navigate the medical world. Take little steps at a time. I’m not suggesting you drop them off at the physician’s all by themselves. Rather, step out of the exam room for just a few minutes to allow time for the healthcare provider and your child to begin to establish an effective patient-doctor relationship.
Hang in there…it’s all good!
*AAP Policy Statement: Provide Condoms to Adolescents. Medscape. Oct 28, 2013.