Your Teen & the Gynecologist
If you have a teen daughter, you’ve noticed the changes – in her body and her attitude. She’s growing up, and it’s time that she saw a grown-up doctor. Believe it or not, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that girls see a gynecologist for the first time between ages 13 and 15. Jennifer Ashton, M.D., OB-GYN, says that thought makes many moms’ jaws drop. Ashton, the author of a new book, The Body Scoop for Girls (Avery, 2010), and a frequent medical expert for national media has this advice on taking your teen daughter to a gynecologist.
Why She Should Go
While some parents might worry that seeing a gynecologist as early as 13 could have their daughter confronting sexual issues too soon, Ashton offers a more holistic view. “Think outside the box,” she urges. “This isn’t just about sex. This is about educating your teenage daughter about her whole body for the rest of her life.” That’s also what Ashton’s new book is about. She points out that many girls in the United States today are getting their first periods at ages 11 or 12. That means they’ve begun puberty as early as age 9, and they need information “so that they feel empowered instead of frightened.”
That first visit with a gynecologist establishes a foundation for lifelong health and wellness, and gives girls information about breast health, diet, exercise, their skin and a host of other topics. Having good information and a good relationship with an OB-GYN can also teach girls to respect – and want to protect – their bodies, making them less likely to have sex at an early age. And the longer a girl delays that first sexual experience, the healthier she’s likely to be, Ashton says.
Finding a Doctor
Ask around to find a gynecologist who has lots of teen patients and is comfortable seeing them. “Many are not,” says Ashton. Because teenagers are “not little women,” they need doctors who are willing to make the extra effort required to individualize their care. Working with teens and answering their many questions takes time and patience.
It’s also ideal if you can find a doctor who is accessible via e-mail or other digital means, so that your daughter can send in a question if something comes up. For referrals, ask your daughter’s pediatrician, your own gynecologist or other parents with teenage daughters.
If you’re a single dad, Ashton understands that you might feel uneasy about this whole subject. She says it’s up to the doctor to make fathers feel comfortable and included, so take the time to find one who meets your needs.
At the Exam
Regardless of age, if a teen isn’t sexually active, she rarely needs a pelvic exam at a gynecological visit, Ashton says. Most exams begin with the doctor taking a family and medical history. It’s common for moms to be present for that portion, to help fill in the information that teens might not know.
But it’s best to let your teen decide whether she’d like you to be present for the physical exam itself, Ashton says. If you have an older adolescent, the doctor will want to speak with her privately after the physical, to give her a chance to ask questions and disclose information she might not want to disclose in front of a parent. “It’s really important for the moms to make an effort to give their daughters some space and privacy, especially for the first visit,” Ashton says. This gives doctor and patient a chance to establish rapport and trust.
Plenty of women who are moms today didn’t have a very good first gynecological experience. But that doesn’t have to be the case for their daughters. “Every mom should try to make that first experience a positive one,” Ashton says.
Christina Elston is a senior editor and a health writer for Dominion Parenting Media.
- The Body Scoop for Girls, by Jennifer Ashton, M.D., OB-GYN, Avery, 2010. A straightforward guide to body knowledge and body image for teenage girls.
- Patient Pamphlets from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) – acog.org/publications/patient_education – ACOG publishes pamphlets for teen girls on topics such as sexuality, menstruation, that first visit to the gynecologist and more, all listed on this Web page. You can obtain a free copy of any of these pamphlets by emailing your specific request to firstname.lastname@example.org.