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, health professionals assume your child can make decisions about her health for herself. This includes seeing a GP 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.

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.

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

As adults, when we go to the GP we expect that our health issues will be kept private and confidential. 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.

Seeing a GP alone creates the same confidentiality and trust for your child. When your child feels comfortable seeing a trusted GP alone, he’s more likely to be honest about his worries, like bullying at school, relationships or substance use. He’s also more likely to ask questions about sensitive issues. This gives the GP the chance to offer guidance on things like sexual health, as well as general advice on things like keeping fit, eating well and reducing stress.

This also gives your child the chance to practise communicating with a GP alone, a skill she’ll need for the rest of her life. And it helps her take greater responsibility for her 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, encouraging your child to see the GP alone shows that you support and respect his developing independence.

Choosing a new GP

It’s a good idea to talk with your child to see how she 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 he:

  • doesn’t feel comfortable with the family GP any more
  • wants to see a GP who doesn’t know his parents
  • wants to talk more openly about issues like relationships (including sexual matters), mental health or substance use
  • wants to manage his own health by starting a 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 her about important aspects of her personal or family history – for example, allergies, asthma or diabetes – for her new file.