Your young teen asks if she can have some private time with her physician during her next visit. Should you be concerned?

Youths between the ages of 11 and 14 often want more privacy in the doctor’s office as they transition to adolescence. In fact, your adolescent’s pediatrician likely will have a discussion with you or send you a letter about the privacy needs of teen and preteen patients.

While recognizing that it is important for you to stay close to your teen, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you allow your child some time alone with the doctor to talk about health and changes in his/her body and life. Private communication enables the pediatrician to assess health risk. It also gives adolescents experience in talking about health issues, and helps them develop a sense of independence and establish rapport with a doctor.

While talking in private with your teen, the pediatrician may ask about diet, exercise, sexuality and sexual behavior, safety while driving, emotions, and substance use. Your teen may feel more comfortable talking about some of these topics with a non-parental figure.

In addition, teens are less likely to speak openly and honestly with their doctor if they are unsure as to whether their privacy will be protected. Research shows that almost one in three high school girls and one in four high school boys say that on at least one occasion they did not see a doctor when they needed medical care. The No. 1 reason they listed for not seeking medical attention is they did not want their parents to know.

To make sure adolescents have the most appropriate medical care, let them know that what they say to the doctor will be shared only if the teen says it is OK. This confidentiality is broken only if the teen discusses hurting him/herself or someone else, or if the teen’s situation is deemed life-threatening.

© 2012 American Academy of Pediatrics. This Parent Plus may be freely copied and distributed with proper attribution.