Seeing the GP alone: making the transition

At the beginning of adolescence, you’ll generally be fully responsible for your child’s health care. But by the end of adolescence, your child is assumed to be able to make decisions about her health for herself. This includes seeing a doctor on her own, confidentially.

You can help your child make the transition, but he’ll need your support as he gains this independence.

Encouraging your child’s ‘health independence’

As your child moves towards ‘health independence’, you need to feel confident she has the skills to manage her own health, and to get the best health and wellbeing outcomes she can.

Your child won’t become an expert manager of his health overnight – just as with other skills, he’ll need practice.

When is the right time to start seeing the GP alone?

While your child is still in early adolescence, it can be a good idea for her to see the GP alone for part of a consultation. Generally, GPs who see teenagers will try to arrange for this to happen.

The time your child spends alone with the GP can increase gradually. By later adolescence, your child will probably be comfortable seeing the GP for the whole consultation by himself.

You and your child can decide together when it might be time for her to start seeing the GP alone. Talk to your child to see what she’s OK with, and check again before appointments to see how she’s feeling about it.

Benefits of your child seeing a GP alone

Seeing a GP alone creates  confidentiality and trust for your child, which is at the heart of the doctor–patient relationship. Confidentiality might help your child feel comfortable talking openly to the GP. And it can help the GP reinforce the vital role you play in your child’s life, health and wellbeing.

As adults, when we go to the GP we expect that our health issues will be kept private. Knowing this helps us trust our GP. This trust makes us feel comfortable so we can give the GP information to make the right diagnosis, offer the best advice and provide the right treatment.

Your child needs to build up that same sense of trust – and he can do it through seeing the GP alone.

When your child sees a trusted GP alone, she’s more likely to be honest about her worries, like bullying at school, relationships or substance use. She’s also more likely to ask questions about sensitive issues, giving the GP the chance to offer guidance on issues that might come up in the future.

This also gives your child the chance to practise communicating with a GP alone, a skill he’ll need for the rest of his life. And it helps him take greater responsibility for his health.

And when your child sees the GP alone it also gives the GP the opportunity to get to know your child and develop a better understanding of your child as an individual.

Last, allowing your child to see the doctor alone shows that you support her developing independence.

Choosing a new GP

It’s a good idea to talk with your child to see how he feels about going to the family GP for a whole range of things, not just coughs and colds. For many young people, continuing to see the family GP is fine. But for some, visiting the same doctor they’ve seen since childhood – and the same one that you see – isn’t OK.

Your child might want to see a different GP because she:

  • doesn’t feel comfortable with the family GP any more
  • wants to see a GP who doesn’t know her parents
  • wants to talk more openly about issues like relationships (including sexual matters), mental health or substance use
  • wants to manage her own health by starting a brand new doctor–patient relationship
  • doesn’t trust the family GP with confidential information.

If your child decides to change GPs, it’s helpful to remind him about important aspects of his personal or family history – for example, allergies, asthma or diabetes – for his new file.

In Australia, the age at which a young person is able to consent to simple health care treatments without involving a parent or guardian is around 14 years. The law recognises that teenagers’ health care rights and responsibilities change as they move towards adulthood.