January 28, 2022
As your child transitions 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.
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.
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.
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.
This article was originally published on IBX Insights.
Dr. Nuria Lopez-Pajares joined Independence Blue Cross in 2018 after practicing primary care and population health for 18 years. With a background in public health and preventive medicine, she is now a medical director involved in utilization management, case management, and quality improvement. What she loves about this job is the opportunity to put prevention into practice and educate.