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Puberty: What Is Doctor Confidentiality?
Puberty: What Is Doctor Confidentiality?
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Puberty: What Is Doctor Confidentiality?

Youth

When you’re a kid, the only way you usually interact with a health care provider—like a doctor or nurse—is if a parent or guardian takes you for a physical or other health services. As you get older, however, there may be times when it makes more sense for you to speak directly with your doctor or a health care provider without a parent or guardian in the room. In most cases, only you will know best how your body is changing, so you are the best person to share this with a health care provider. In addition, you might also find yourself needing more privacy to talk to your health care provider about issues that are coming up for you or to get answers to questions you might have. If you aren’t offered time to speak alone with your health care provider, you have the right to ask for it. This may be hard to do, but it is important and allows you to practice for a time when you will need to advocate for your health needs as an adult.

FAQ

What kinds of things can I talk to my doctor about in private?

You can talk with your health care provider in private about so many things. You might choose to talk about changes happening with your body during puberty or serious issues, like abuse or relationship violence, substance use, coming out as LGBTQ, or being harassed or bullied in school. Because confidentiality laws can vary, be sure to ask what your health care provider can or cannot keep confidential. Knowing this will allow you to make an informed decision about how much you want to share.

How do I know a health care center is safe for having confidential discussions?

It is really hard to know unless you ask outright whether your information will be protected and kept confidential by your medical provider. That said, you can look for cues in the way your health care provider treats you that help you determine if they are open to talking about sexual health and confidentiality. Do they express care and non-judgment? Do they have materials or rules in their office that state they’re open to discussing sexual health? Often something as simple as a rainbow sticker or poster can let you know that it’s a safe space where you can talk about issues like sexual orientation. These cues provide an opening to talk with your health care provider about confidentiality.

Parents

Sexual health is an important part of your child’s overall health. Sexual health covers a wide range of areas, including hygiene and protecting one’s self from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Beyond pregnancy and STD prevention, it’s important for young people to start early in paying attention to their bodies and how they function. Parents can support their children in understanding their bodies and advocating for their sexual health by normalizing sexual health as part of general functioning and wellness, and helping children access sexual health resources as needed.

As a child gets older, their relationship with their health care provider will also change. The health care provider they visit will likely talk more directly with the young person over time, which should be encouraged. The health care provider may ask the parent to step out of the exam room, so that the child has more privacy to ask questions or raise personal issues. If the medical provider does not ask, the child may initiate their own private conversation, which is also valid and encouraged. Parents can also make a point of offering their child private time with their health care provider, if it is not requested. This shows young people that they have the right and opportunity to request privacy with their health care provider in the future.

It can be difficult for parents to support their children’s sexual health, particularly since it involves their growing agency and independence. That said, young people have the right to pursue health care confidentially—to ask questions about what services they provide, whether or not they can be accessed without parental permission, and whether or not their visit and records will be kept confidential. They may also choose to utilize apps that can also assist with sexual health concerns, including period tracking, birth control reminders, or finding accessible health care centers. Parents can be supportive by honoring their children’s privacy, while remaining accessible as a support when needed.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

When parents and caregivers engage in loving and supportive conversations with children about their sexual and reproductive health, it allows children to address their needs in ways that avoid feelings of shame and self-judgment. Bringing up sexual health as a topic, even before any issues surface, can be a useful way to let your child know that you are available for any questions or concerns they may have.

Below are some ways to start conversations on accessing sexual health services:

Normalize sexual and reproductive health-seeking

Visiting a health care center can be an uncomfortable process for a young person, especially when they are going for the first time or are surrounded by people who are judgmental or shame them for seeking such services. Before a visit is necessary, normalize sexual health management by having a conversation about what the visit might entail: how long an office visit might take, what procedures might take place, what questions might be good to ask, and what resources might be available for them to ask for. Encourage your children to consider how they might feel getting sexual health services, and address any questions or concerns they might have.

Honor your child’s agency and privacy

It is never ideal for a child to pursue sexual health services without the support of a parent or guardian. However, parents who are restrictive or insist on knowing every part of their child’s life run the risk of their children secretly accessing sexual health services to avoid parental disapproval. Young people have the right to ask questions, and to receive answers without the input of their parents. Work to honor and respect your child’s agency. Be clear that while you encourage them to maintain open lines of communication with you it is okay for them to establish privacy and whatever boundaries they feel they might need.

Educators

Health and sexuality educators can play a key role in not only helping young people think about their sexual health, but also finding sexual health resources to effectively care for themselves. Sexual health covers a wide range of areas, including hygiene and protecting one’s self from unintended pregnancy and STDs. You will undoubtedly have young people who have questions not only about sexuality topics, but also about who they can trust to talk to about their questions and concerns.

It can be difficult for some parents to support their children’s sexual health, particularly since it involves their growing agency and independence. That said, young people have the right to pursue health care confidentially—to ask questions about what services health centers provide, whether or not they can be accessed without parental permission, and whether or not their visit and records will be kept confidential. You may encourage parents to be supportive of their children’s privacy, agency and health needs, all while remaining accessible as a support when needed.

Discussion Questions


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