Parents of teens who struggle letting go of the reins may have a negative impact on their child's health, a new national poll suggests.
nurse discussing test results with teen girl
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If you tend to hover during your teen's doctor visits, you may be negatively impacting her health, a new study says.

A nationally-representative group of parents of teens ages 13 to 18 were surveyed about their involvement in their teens checkups. The findings? Only 34 percent of parents said their child discussed health concerns privately with a doctor without them in the room, and just 15 percent said their teen would independently share physical or emotional problems with the doctor. Even more startling: Less than 10 percent said their teens could complete their own health history form independently.

"The majority of parents are managing teens' health care visits, and their teens may be missing out on valuable opportunities to learn how to take ownership of their own health," says Sarah J. Clark, M.P.H., associate director of the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health. "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."

teen checkups poll
Credit: C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health

And yet, nearly 40 percent of parents surveryed said that they alone—not their teen—would ask questions about health issues during doctor visits. "Parents' top reason for handling different aspects of the health care visit is that their teen would not be comfortable talking about these subjects—which may stem from the fact that they aren't getting much practice," Clark says. "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. 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."

So how can you help?

Clark recommends things like encouraging your teen to write down any health problems or questions he has before each appointment and then having your teen take over the check-in and form-completion duties upon arrival. She also suggests waiting to speak up during the actual visit, giving your child a chance to describe any problems and ask questions.

"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," she says.

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and a mom. Check out her website for more, and follow her on Twitter at @holleewoodworld.