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Why your teen is entitled to confidentiality

Health - By Dr. Alfred Murage
Photo; Courtesy

Dear Doctor,

My 17-year-old daughter asked me to take her to see a gynaecologist. She didn’t tell me why and I’m tempted to insist that I should go in for the consultation with her. I am afraid she might be sexually active. If she is, I feel like I would want to know. Would it be OK to ask the doctor what they discussed? Martha

Dear Martha,

As your teens transit into puberty, they will increasingly have reason to see a gynaecologist. Parental instincts for full involvement in their medical encounters naturally kick in. Your intentions may be for your teen’s good, but you must start letting go sooner than later. They deserve their moments of medical confidentiality once they attain the legal age for consent.

Most jurisdictions define the legal age of consent at the ages of 16 or 18 years. Once the defined age is attained, teens must be treated as adults in many matters that require self-judgment and decision making.

Some jurisdictions go beyond age alone to allow independent decision making for teens. A younger teen may be judged competent for consent purposes if deemed to be in full understanding of the issues at hand by their care provider.

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Teens will often have many reasons to consult with a gynaecologist. It may be some issue with their periods, ranging from irregularity, to pain and excessive bleeding.

Some will confuse normal vaginal secretions for something more serious. And like it or not, teenage consultations on matters related to sex and contraception are increasingly common.

It is your duty to facilitate your teen’s medical consults, without being unnecessarily intrusive. You will be able to judge pretty quickly whether it’s something they want to discuss. You can offer to accompany them for the consult. But try to allow them some measure of independence.

Be the first one to offer to sit in the waiting area as they get seen. They will quickly invite you to stay with them for the consultation if they wish.

Gynaecologists often ask teenagers if they want to be seen in the company of their parents or guardians. Majority want to be seen alone.

Most teens only need some reassurance, but rarely, some medication or procedure may be necessary. Once of legal age, they can consent for their own treatment without your involvement. Majority though will disclose to you the details of their diagnosis and treatment, especially if you have developed a good parental-child relationship over the years.

Some will keep it to themselves, and you must learn to respect this. They are owed medical confidentiality, it doesn’t matter that you are their parent. Don’t pry too much if they don’t want to discuss.

You really don’t expect your teen to give you details of a recent episode of unprotected sex that warrants screening for sexual infections and emergency contraception.

Don’t bother calling their doctor either. The duty to confidentiality means doctors are not obliged to give you any information. They can only do this with explicit permission from your teen.

The best you can do is to encourage your teen to discuss their medical problems with you. The law entitles them to confidentiality. It is your duty to respect this.

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