May 1, 2019

Tough Conversations – Teens Opening Up About Their Health

Group of teenagersMemes. Texts. Gifs. While teens keep things light with friends, studies show they want to know more about important topics that can affect their overall adult health but are reluctant to talk with parents present. Just when teens are exploring their interests and boundaries, an open relationship with their physician could be a roadmap to health success.

“Teens are developing cognitively, emotionally and socially. They are learning about themselves and how to make decisions,” said Ashley McClary, MD, pediatrician with Mission Pediatrics – McDowell. For some teens, the time is right to take more responsibility for their own health discussions.

A strong network of adults that your teen can talk to could start with your child’s pediatrician. In this familiar setting, teens can be more comfortable learning and talking about their health.

Even some as young as 11 years old can benefit from an option called a “split doctor visit.” Parents are present for part of the visit to discuss such issues as vaccines, general health information and family history. One-on-one visits between the doctor and teen follow where conversations may cover topics such as bullying, sexual health, substance use, healthy eating or mental health screening for depression or anxiety.

“Traditionally, many teens have not received the health information they need,” said Dr. McClary. “This option offers teens reliable health information and guidance from someone who knows your family.”

It’s important to recognize that teen-only doctor visits are completely confidential, and by law the only reason confidentiality can be broken is if the teen is in immediate danger. In North Carolina, teens can consent to their mental health, sexual health and substance abuse treatment.

“It’s really important to build strong relationships between parents, teens and their provider,” said Dr. McClary. “With a little coaching, we can help facilitate tough conversations going forward.”

Topics Teens Discuss with Their Doctors

  • Avoiding substance use
  • Daily activity
  • Healthy eating
  • Mental and sexual health
  • Promoting healthy sexuality
  • Safety and bullying
  • School concerns
  • Sleep requirements
  • Supporting family connection

Ashley McClary, MD, is a pediatrician with Mission Pediatrics – McDowell.

If you would like to have your teen seen by a pediatrician, call Mission Pediatrics – McDowell at 828-652-6386 or visit