It can be hard to watch your child grow up. It may feel like just yesterday that they were singing the A-B-C song or swinging on the swings at the playground. But now that they’re a teenager, you might notice an increase in mood swings, friend drama, and a push for more independence.
So, how do you help them during this sometimes-bumpy adolescent phase? As they transition to adulthood, one of the most important things you can do is to empower them with knowledge about their body and their reproductive health. And that begins with talking to their pediatrician.
It’s important to note that not all assigned-female children identify as girls. Some identify as boys or nonbinary, so I will be using gender-neutral nouns and pronouns throughout this article. Regardless of a child’s gender identity, visits to an obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN) remain just as important.
Talk to Your Child’s Doctor
Many times, pediatric offices have an adolescent specialist on staff whom your child can speak to. If not, they can recommend an OB-GYN. You can help your child find an OB-GYN provider they will feel comfortable with.
This is especially important for children who identify as LGBTQ+ and/or nonbinary. They often do not feel understood and supported by parents, teachers, health care workers, and other adults. Trust is an essential element in the doctor-patient relationship, so it’s vital to select health care professionals who are comfortable with your child’s sexual orientation and gender identity.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that teens first visit an OB-GYN when they are between the ages of 13 and 15, or if they have a health issue (like painful periods or a yeast infection) or become sexually active. Most teens this age don’t need to have a pelvic exam if they aren’t having a problem, even if they start birth control. The current recommendation for a first pelvic examination and Pap smear is age 21.
What Your Child Can Expect at Their First OB-GYN Visit
As children go through puberty, they need to be given the tools to help them make safe and appropriate choices and advocate for themselves. This begins with having in-depth knowledge about their bodies and their reproductive health. That’s why it’s important to schedule a visit with an OB-GYN who can provide invaluable education that will empower your child as they grow into an adult.
It’s helpful to prepare your child so they know what to expect at their first appointment. At first, it may feel uncomfortable talking to them about these topics, but there are plenty of resources available to help you navigate those sensitive conversations.
- Health education: The OB-GYN will discuss common questions around puberty, periods and premenstrual syndrome, yeast infections, breast health, urinary tract infections, and more. The doctor may also answer any questions your child may have about how to best keep their body clean and healthy as it changes.
- Birth control: Regardless of whether your child is sexually active, the OB-GYN will discuss birth control. But there’s no need to stress: remember, the best time for the doctor to have these conversations is before your child is sexually active. The OB-GYN will explain different birth control options, including abstinence, condoms, the oral contraceptive pill, intrauterine devices (IUD), subdermal implant, transdermal patch, and vaginal rings. The OB-GYN may also recommend your child get the HPV vaccine, if they haven’t had it yet.
- STI testing: If your child is sexually active, the OB-GYN may screen for common STIs (sexually transmitted infections) including chlamydia, HPV, HIV, gonorrhea, syphilis, and hepatitis.
- Healthy relationships: Some OB-GYNs may discuss relationships with teens. They will talk about what constitutes a healthy relationship, boundaries, consent, and warning signs of unhealthy relationships.
- Substance abuse/risky behaviors: The OB-GYN may also discuss the risks associated with using alcohol and drugs or engaging in unsafe sex.
Everyone Needs Age-Appropriate Education and Care
Assigned-male children need education about puberty and their sexual/reproductive health as well, so if you have one, make sure to ask their primary care physician to provide some age-appropriate education (if they haven’t done so already).
And remember, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that doctors begin setting aside one-on-one time with young people as early as age 11. So don’t be offended if your child’s doctor asks you to leave the room for part of the appointment. Having a trusted health care provider that your child can talk to gives them confidence to ask questions, empowers them to advocate for their own health, and helps keep them safe and healthy.