confident teen girl at doctor visit

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How to empower teens to make health care decisions

  • As their bodies begin to change from ages 10 – 13, young people want more privacy.
  • Teens can access the Allina Health account—which gives online access to their health information—starting at age 13.

Parenting means constantly preparing your child for the next level of independence. When it comes to health care, it’s important that young people learn how to take ownership of their wellness and bodies—especially during their teen years. The key for parents is to start early by educating and sharing responsibilities with your pre-teen, and then add more responsibilities as they grow older. This article shares how you can support teens’ growing independence and help them understand the positive and negative consequences of the health care decisions they make—today and tomorrow.

Health care responsibilities by age

Health care is complicated, even for adults. But it can seem overwhelming to your pre-teen or teenager, who has been used to you making all of their health care decisions. To coach your child toward health care independence in adulthood, it’s best to start early and add responsibilities as your child becomes developmentally ready.

Early adolescence: age 10 – 13 years

During this stage of adolescence, kids start to grow quickly and experience significant physical changes. This is when they may first notice hair growing in their armpits and pubic area, breast development for girls and growth in the testicles for boys. Early adolescence can also be a time of anxiety and self-consciousness. And it’s when young people start to feel more independent and want more privacy.

New health care responsibilities at this age:

  • Understand medical conditions they might have, such as asthma, allergies or ADHD. This is especially important for kids with disabilities or chronic conditions.
  • Know which medications they need to take and why.
  • Know about any allergies to medications.
  • Lead the conversation and ask questions during medical appointments. You might even consider leaving the room briefly so your child can ask questions that they might be too embarrassed to ask in front of you.

Starting at age 13, young people can sign up for teen access to the Allina Health account. The account combines the MyChart electronic health record with online tools and features to make health care easier—including appointment scheduling and viewing test results.

Middle adolescence: 14 – 17 years

The physical changes continue at a fast pace during this stage. Kids will often have a growth spurt, adding several inches to their height. Boys will notice their voices changing and their genitals developing. Girls will see their bodies continue to change, with menstrual periods becoming regular and sexual characteristics almost completely developed. This is when young people seek their independence more assertively, and you may have more conflicts and arguments. This is also when teens become much more interested in romantic and sexual relationships. At this age, adolescents are more able to think abstractly and consider "the big picture." But they still may lack the impulse control to apply that kind of thinking in the moment.

New health care responsibilities at this age:

  • Understand their personal health history—hospitalizations, operations, treatments and more.
  • Know their family medical history, including chronic conditions or significant illnesses in their immediate family.
  • Have contact information for current and previous doctors.
  • Know medication names and dosages.
  • Understand how to refill a prescription.

Late adolescence: 18 – 21 years

At this stage, young people have fully developed bodies. They also have a stronger sense of their individuality and can identify their priorities, goals and values. Now they can think about and plan for the future. During this stage, most young people are in the process of gaining their adult independence, whether that means attending college, working or living away from home for the first time.

New health care responsibilities at this age:

  • Choose their own primary care provider and understand when to make an appointment or choose other care options (urgent care, online visit, emergency room).
  • Know how to get copies of medical records, immunizations and other important information.
  • Understand how health insurance works, including coverage, limitations and how to contact their insurance provider for information or questions.
  • Plan for when their parent’s insurance coverage expires for dependents, which is usually at age 26.

The Allina Health account makes many of these tasks easier—and offers even more features that aren’t available to teens under age 18. Users can log in to view medical records, get proof of immunizations, get virtual care and much more.

How parents can help children navigate adolescence

As a parent, you’ve been responsible for your child’s health care decisions. But as they grow into teens and young adults, it’s an opportunity to help them take more responsibility for managing their health. Stay close to your teen during this time and guide their health, their changing bodies and their lives. Although your teen may not say it out loud, they still need your help as they make the transition into adulthood.

Here are some ways you can help:

  • Teach your child about changes in their body including nutrition, sleep, exercise and more.
  • Start conversations about healthy sexual relationships—even if it’s awkward and uncomfortable at first.
  • Discuss risky behaviors and consequences involving alcohol, drugs and sexually transmitted infections.
  • Keep conversations positive; avoid nagging or criticizing.
  • Be supportive and set clear limits.

Ultimately, your job as a parent isn’t to raise kids—it’s to raise adults. Helping your child take greater ownership of their health care is a powerful way to make that happen. With these tips in mind, you’ll be well on the way to raising young adults who are in control of their health

WHAT YOU CAN DO

  • Sign up for an Allina Health account

    Get started
  • Help teens manage their health care with an Allina Health account

    Learn more

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