Seeing the GP alone: making the transition
At the beginning of adolescence, you’ll usually be fully responsible for your child’s health care. But by the end of adolescence, health professionals assume your child can make decisions about their health for themselves. This includes seeing a GP or other health professional on their own, confidentially.
You can help your child make the transition, but your child will need your support as they gain this independence.
Encouraging teenage health independence
As your child moves towards ‘health independence’, you need to feel confident they have the skills and knowledge to manage their own health, and to get the best health and wellbeing outcomes.
Your child won’t become an expert manager of their health overnight – just as with other skills, they’ll need practice and your support.
You can help your child build confidence to see their GP alone. A good way to start is by helping your child prepare for appointments by writing a list of questions or things to discuss.
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 them to see the GP and other health care professionals 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 alone for the whole consultation.
You and your child can decide together when it might be time for them to start seeing the GP alone. Talk to your child to see what they’re OK with, and check again before appointments to see how they’re 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, either face to face or via telehealth, creates the same confidentiality and trust for your child. When your child feels comfortable seeing a trusted GP alone, they’re more likely to be honest about their worries, like bullying at school, relationships or substance use. Your child is 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, a skill they’ll need for the rest of their life. It helps your child take greater responsibility for their health.
One-on-one consultations with your child give the GP the opportunity to get to know your child and develop a better understanding of your child as an individual.
And if you encourage your child to see the GP alone, it shows that you support and respect your child’s developing independence.
Choosing a new GP
It’s a good idea to talk with your child to see how they feel 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. 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 they:
- don’t feel comfortable with the family GP any more
- want to see a GP who doesn’t know their parents
- want to talk more openly about issues like relationships (including sexual matters), mental health or substance use
- want to manage their own health by starting a new doctor-patient relationship
- don’t trust the family GP with confidential information
- want a GP who understands their health condition.
If your child decides to change GPs, it’s helpful to remind them about important aspects of their personal or family history – for example, allergies, asthma or diabetes – for their new file.
If your child has a complex medical condition or developmental disability and wants to change GPs, it’s important that the new GP understands your child’s needs.