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The Importance of the Preteen Well Child Visit

Well-child visits are an important part of your young child’s healthcare routine. But, like many busy parents, you may be tempted to skip a well-child check-up for your healthy 11- to 13-year-old. Here’s why you shouldn’t.

Why Preteen Well Child Visits Are Important

As preteens begin to navigate physical and emotional changes associated with becoming an adult, well-child checkups ensure that they receive the preventative care and information they need to stay safe and healthy into young adulthood.

And just as important, the preteen years are a great time to model positive healthcare habits and allow your child to begin participating in his or her medical care.

teen receiving a vaccine shotThe Basics of the Preteen Checkup

Even if your preteen is healthy and has no chronic conditions, your preteen’s primary care practitioner can play an important role in guiding him or her toward a healthy life. During your preteen’s well-child visit, your child’s doctor will:

  • Measure how your preteen is growing and developing
  • Calculate your preteen’s body mass index (BMI)— a body-height ratio often used to determine whether a person is at a healthy weight.
  • Provide vision and mental health screenings
  • Conduct a thorough physical exam
  • Ask questions about your child’s daily routine, health habits and interests
  • Answer questions about important vaccines

Your child’s primary care practitioner also will provide advice on diet, exercise, sleeping habits, drug and alcohol prevention and safety, as well as address any concerns you or your child may have. If your doctor has any concerns about your preteen’s health, he or she will raise those issues and, if necessary, order tests and work with you and your preteen to develop an appropriate care plan.

Getting Important Vaccines

By vaccinating your preteen, you are teaching them how to be proactive about their health and take the best possible care of their body. And, getting the right vaccinations today can help your preteen to stay healthy well into adulthood.

Recommended vaccines for children ages 11-13 include:

  • Flu. The flu vaccine should be administered each year prior to the start of flu season, which begins in October.
  • Tdap booster. The DTap vaccine is first administered in early childhood and protects against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough (also called pertussis). Children need a booster shot when they are 11 or 12 years old and every 10 years thereafter.
  • Meningococcal vaccine.  The meningococcal vaccine protects against bacteria that can cause meningitis, a serious infection in the fluid and lining of the brain. It also protects against septicemia, a potentially deadly blood infection. Although these conditions are rare, they can cause brain damage and, in some cases, death.
  • HPV vaccine. Human papillomavirus (HPV) affects 1 in 4 Americans and can increase the risk of developing cervical cancer, penile cancer, anal cancer, mouth/throat cancer and genital warts. The HPV vaccine can prevent infection of certain strains of HPV that have been shown to increase cancer risk.

    Most children receive their first dose of the HPV vaccine when they are 11 or 12 years old, however it can be given as early as age 9. For children who start the vaccine before their 15th birthday only two doses are required, usually 6 months apart. Children receiving the vaccine after their 15th birthday will require a series of three shots.

    To ensure complete protection, it is important to begin administering the vaccine when your child is a preteen. This ensures that he or she can complete the series and develop immunity before being exposed to the virus.

female teen and female adult high fivingAddressing Chronic Conditions

If your child has a chronic health condition such as diabetes, allergies, or asthma, well-child visits are especially important. Even if your child is a regular at the pediatrician’s office for acute-care visits, a well visit will allow your provider to focus on proactively managing your child’s health in a non emergency setting. In addition to checking in to see how your child is doing, your doctor will discuss your child’s medications, answer questions and begin preparing your child to manage their health conditions more independently.

Developing Self-Care Skills

With preteens, actions usually speak louder than words. When parents make the time to bring preteens to their well-child checkups, they are sending a powerful, positive message about the importance of routine, preventative healthcare, making it more likely their children will continue engaging in positive healthcare behaviors into young adulthood and beyond.

The preteen years also provide a great opportunity for 11- or 12-year-olds to begin developing a relationship with their primary care practitioner. If you and your child feel ready, it might be a good time for your child to begin meet privately with the doctor to discuss his or her own concerns. Because preteens are beginning to experience a range of physical and emotional changes, they may feel more comfortable discussing certain concerns without a parent in the room.

Providing Parental Guidance

A child’s primary care practitioner is a valuable resource for parents, too. In addition to helping preteens learn to manage their own health, a child’s primary care practitioner also can provide information for parents on how to navigate the sometimes-challenging preteen years.

Your child’s primary care practitioner can help you learn how to spot problems such as bullying, depression, and drug or alcohol abuse and can offer suggestions to address other concerns, such as Internet usage and learning/attention problems. If necessary, your child’s doctor can provide you with informational resources or refer you to a specialist for additional help.

If you are the parent of a preteen, you should be sure to take advantage of well-child visits to build positive healthcare habits, ensure proper preventative care and foster a strong relationship between your preteen and his or her primary care provider. Before you know it, your preteen will become a young adult—and taking these steps today will benefit your child’s health for years to come.

For more information about preteen well-child visits or to schedule an appointment, call your Pediatrician or Primary Care Physician. If you need help finding a physician, go to http://www.tmphysiciannetwork.org/Our-Doctors.aspx.