Helicopter Parenting Has No Place in Retail Clinics

December 17th 2015

Parents can empower their teens to improve their health by allowing them to take the lead in asking and answering questions during regular check-ups.

Parents can empower their teens to improve their health by allowing them to take the lead in asking and answering questions during regular check-ups.

Yet, many parents are hesitant to relinquish control during their teenagers’ provider visits, according to a recent survey conducted by the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health.

For instance, only 34% of the respondents—all of whom were parents of teenagers—indicated that their teens discussed their health concerns with a provider without them in the room. Additionally, only 15% of parents said their teens would independently share physical or emotional problems with their provider, while 40% stated that they ask questions about their teens’ health issues without any input from the children themselves.

Many of the parents surveyed responded that they often took control during health care visits because they felt that their teens would be uncomfortable discussing their health with a provider. The researchers suggested that this discomfort could stem from a lack of experience in handling matters related to their health, which is something that could be acquired by granting teens more independence during office and clinic visits.

“Having teens take the lead in responsibilities like filling out their own paperwork, describing their health problems, and asking questions during adolescence helps them gain experience and confidence in managing their health,” ssaid Sarah J. Clark, MPH, associate director of the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, in a press release. “Speaking with the doctor privately is important, not only to give teens a chance to disclose confidential information, but also to provide the opportunity for them to be an active participant in their own health care, without a parent taking over.”

With aseparate surveydemonstrating that parents are increasingly taking their children to retail clinics instead of traditional pediatrician offices, nurse practitioners and physician assistants who work in these settings are ideally placed to help teens take ownership of their health.

Clarke and her colleagues offered several suggestions to cultivate independence in teens during health care visits that clinicians can pass on to parents, including:

  • Encourage teens to write down their health problems or questions prior to their clinic appointment.
  • Have teens check in at the registration desk and complete forms themselves.
  • Give teens space during the visit to describe any problems or ask any questions without a parent present.

“Parents are naturally concerned about their child's health, and that transition to letting their teens become independent in the health setting can be difficult,” Clarke stated. “But with parents' guidance, these early opportunities will help teens prepare to navigate the health care system and take responsibility for their own health as they get older.”

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