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Teen Confidentiality

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Teen ConfidentialityAs children approach adolescence, they need to have the opportunity for confidential communication with their doctors. Exactly at what age this will occur depends on the individual child, his/her culture, and other factors. That the teen patient will be given the opportunity to speak confidentially with you should be stated, perhaps even negotiated, up front with the parents/caretakers and the adolescent as part of establishing ground rules for the visit. Some parents might be upset by or disapproving of the issues their child raises during your visit. Forcing an adolescent to broach sensitive or confidential issues in front of a parent, or even allowing a parent to do so, can undermine the young patient’s confidence in you and perhaps even all doctors.

You may be surprised by some of the unsafe activities, sexual and otherwise, in which U.S. adolescents participate. It is essential to be nonjudgmental, yet to recognize and to discourage dangerous behaviors. It is also critical to reassure young patients that the content of such conversations will be held in confidence and that this confidence will not be violated.

Laws vary from state to state regarding what decisions adolescents may make on reproductive health issues, such as contraception and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, without informing parents or getting parental consent. Situations may also arise in which reports must be made to social services or other agencies. You should consult local social service staff and others about the rules that apply in your state.

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