Several months ago I had an opportunity to participate in a health fair at the local high school. Our health community gathered together to present information which educated, informed, and increased awareness of services available to students and their families. The students discovered available services that may not have been discussed with parents or their health care providers. STI/HIV testing sites, birth control clinics, mental health services, local hospitals, community-based organizations, nutritional services, fitness experts – they all have something to offer our young people. The health fair is an occasion for our youth to explore their health care options without mom or dad looking over their shoulders. In fact, it is what I love best about this annual event – the sense of autonomy the students gain as they explore the variety of health services available to them in an open, non-judgmental event.
Navigating the medical world is a necessary – yet sometimes daunting – adult skill. Before you know it, your “sweet baby” will be off to college or work or travel and into a world of independence. Preparing children to take care of themselves is one of our parental responsibilities. After all, illness is inevitable and knowing how to seek appropriate medical care is crucial to their health and ultimate success in school, work, …. and life.
There are three important, yet basic, skills that you can encourage which will help your child confidently negotiate the medical world.
1. Pick up the phone.
Towards the end of high school your child should feel comfortable calling the appropriate healthcare facility to make an appointment. I know, I know… It is so much easier to do it yourself – I am guilty of that myself. However, helping your child get over the “I don’t know what I’m supposed to say” jitters will give them confidence to communicate with providers when they have no one to depend on but themselves. Before they make that call, review with your child the potential questions the scheduler might ask, such as the reason for the visit and insurance information. Be there to offer moral support – and possibly your credit card number.
2. Know whom to call.
Help them understand the difference between medical specialties so they know whom to call for their medical needs. Usually calling one’s primary care physician is the best option, but sometimes a specialist may be necessary. For example, if your daughter is having issues with her menstrual cycle or is interested in going on birth control, a gynecologist might be the best option.
3. Be your own advocate. Know which questions to ask to get the answers you need.
Over the years you have been modeling patient-doctor interaction while your child quietly observed. As your child grows older, teaching him how to communicate his own needs is the next step in establishing health care autonomy. Encourage your child to write out questions for the health care provider and bring them to the appointment. It is so easy to forget everything that is swirling around in our heads before the appointment. When in the exam room, encourage your child to ask questions. But do not interrupt! Your child is in charge now. As an older high school student, it is time to allow your child to visit the doctor on their own. This enables private conversation between the health care provider and your child…and yes, hopefully they are talking about sex!
Watching our “babies” grow into young adults is both exciting and worrisome. After all, they will NEVER take care of themselves like YOU take care of them, right?
Actually….they will be fine. You taught them well…now let them take charge of their own health care as they head off into the adult world.
(Don’t worry, I know from experience they will call you when they are sick…! They still need you. Happy face.)