Teach Your Teen About Health and Mental Health Care

teen girl with doctor
From the WebMD Archives

WebMD Feature from The Jed Foundation (JED).The JED Foundation 

It’s important to begin talking to your child about personal responsibility during their early teenage years. Encourage them to manage time appropriately. This could include taking responsibility for homework and sleep schedules.

Some kids are more responsible than others. They make better choices when given independence. But even if yours doesn’t always choose wisely, give them more and more responsibility during high school. That will help them learn from small missteps while they’re still living at home and under your supervision.

As they get older, encourage them to take charge of their own health care. Your child can begin to make their own doctors’ appointments and be in charge of when to take their medicine.

If there’s a mental health issue and your child is about to head off to college, set up a joint phone call or meeting with their current doctors and the school’s health care team. This can help put a realistic plan in place for ongoing treatment. It’ll ensure that everyone agrees on how to handle problems if and when they arise.

How to Manage Private Health Information

In the U.S., once you turn 18, your health care information becomes private. This means your child has to give approval in writing before a doctor or college counselor can share their medical information with a family member (or anyone else). The exception is an emergency that justifies overriding privacy laws.

How can you support your child while respecting their privacy? Talk about how to handle health care before they leave home. Discuss confidentiality laws and the possible usefulness of parental/family input in relation to medical or mental health care.

Tell them they can sign consent forms that let campus doctors and counselors talk to you and to their doctor or counselor at home. This will make it easier to coordinate treatment. Everyone who needs to be involved in major decisions will be part of the conversation.

The consent form will probably offer a list of choices for what a doctor or counselor may discuss and under what circumstances these discussions can take place:

  • May call parents to obtain collateral information (details about her past health history or family history)
  • May give information to parents if they call to ask
  • May only tell the parent whether or not their student is attending appointments
  • May only talk with parents on specific dates
  • May only talk with parents about certain topics (such as not allowing any discussion of substance use)

Keep in mind, though, that your child can change their mind and take away the consent at any time.

Even when there’s no consent, you can still call the campus doctor or counselor to provide information or discuss a concern. The provider should accept the information but will likely tell you he can’t confirm or deny that your child is a patient.

If you’re worried, reach out to a counselor or campus health services to discuss your concerns. You can also contact the dean of students or, on a residential campus, the school’s housing director, to ask about your child’s safety or well-being. They won’t have direct access to medical or counseling information, but if they know your child is struggling, they can suggest ways for you to help.

Your child will have to sign consent forms to let the providers tell you if they’re hospitalized. Most hospitals encourage students to allow contact with parents.

Action Plan for Parents

  • Start talking to your teen about going to college in their early high school years.
  • Help them become independent.
  • Teach them to manage their time.
  • Let them take control of their health care.
  • Expect to be emotional as they let go.
  • Make contact with non-health care administrative leaders, housing staff, or teachers at their school. These people can give you information about your child’s actions or behavior on campus.

Fast Facts About Privacy Laws -- What to Tell Your Kid

  • They can talk to health care providers confidentially. Their health information is confidential. It’s protected by a federal law.
  • They can sign forms that give you different levels of access to their information.
  • They can allow their campus doctor talk to their doctor back home.

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WebMD Feature from The Jed Foundation Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on September 18, 2017
© 2018 The Jed Foundation, All Rights Reserved.