The Importance of Teaching Our Teens to Advocate for Their Physical and Mental Health

Yesterday I sat in the doctor’s office with my three teenagers. It was time for their yearly checkups, which I always schedule back to back because it’s so much easier.

As we checked in, they were given forms to fill out with simple questions about how much exercise and screen time they get, and fruits and vegetables they eat. While they did pretty well, they kept looking to me for answer they already knew, and it made me realize it was time to give them a little push about advocating for themselves and their mental health.

Our pediatrician looks to them and asks them a lot of questions, which I love, and I tried my best not to chime in. I did give them little nudges though, reminding them to bring up important topics like my son’s stomach issues, and how they can deal with stress.

But it made me realize how much I’ve taken control of their health—it’s just what mothers do- and how it is not going to be long and they aren’t going to have me sitting next to the them they are at the doctor’s office.

It's important to teach teens to advocate for their health
Shutterstock/ Monkey Business Images

My daughter is going to need to start seeing the gynecologist yearly, and it’s especially important for her to realize she needs to speak up about many issues she’s having– big or small– and not to be shy if she’s not getting the answers she needs in regard to symptoms she’s having with her period, birth control, or sex.

As far as their mental health goes, we can’t teach them enough is something feels off, or they are sad or depressed for more than an extended period of time, they need to tell someone as soon as possible, and keep talking until they are heard.

When they are away from home and in college, what if something is going on with them and they aren’t getting the answers they would like to from the campus doctor?

I have a fear they will have a feeling about their mental or physical health, have a hard time finding the words, and will be shy about speaking up because they will feel the doctor knows best.

I want them to realize it is a collaboration between them and the doctor, and if they aren’t getting the answers they are looking for, they need to keep asking until they get it.

The time to show them the importance of this is now, before they leave me and are left to have to deal with medical or mental health problems on their own.

We all want our kids to walk away home with confidence and the words to get what they need in all aspects of life, but their health is extra important– and they won’t always have a parent or guardian to speak up for them.

Grown and Flown spoke with Royan Kamyar, M.D., MBA, founder and CEO of Owaves, a health technology company producing software to empower the next generation to take control of their time, embody lifestyle medicine and live longer, healthier lives.

Kamyar says it’s important for kids who are attending college to “familiarize themselves with the existing health services on campus.”

Our college kids should also be taught they should ask for “the classic second opinion” if they feel they aren’t being heard by the campus doctor, or any doctor for that matter.

If your student is still struggling after getting a second opinion, and their needs are still not being met, Kamyar says it’s important to “seek out who the responsible administrator(s) are and write a letter, ideally with the backing of their parents.”

Of course, if symptoms are getting worse your child should go to the nearest urgent-care center or emergency room and get the help they need.

Kamyar also points out how helpful it can be to write things down before the appointment such as questions they’d like answered, so if they get nervous or side-tracked, they will stay on track.

“Taking notes while the clinician is speaking,” is a great way to let the doctor know they are taking the appointment seriously says Kamyar. This is also a great way for them to keep track of dates, and things that were discussed at appointments.

Other important things for your college student to take note of according to Kamyar: 1) How many days the average wait is for an appointment., 2) what the clinical staff to student ratio is for their health services (target 1 to 1,000) and 3) whether funding for student health services has increased, decreased or stayed flat in recent years.

Doing things while they are still living with you at home will pave the way for your kids to take control of their health. They can start by speaking up during appointment, filling out some medial forms by themselves, and being educated on the importance of visiting the doctor regularly.

With knowledge and experience on how to advocate for themselves and the support of their parents, our kids will be able to take control of their health but it’s up to us to pave the road for them.


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About Katie BinghamSmith

Katie Bingham-Smith lives in Maine with her three kids. She is a Staff Writer at Scary Mommy, shoe addict and pays her kids to rub her feet. You can see more of her on Facebook and Instagram .

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