- Well-child visits are an opportunity for teenage girls to receive preventive screenings and vaccines and learn about the changes they will experience during adolescence.
- Healthcare clinicians can give teens important awareness-focused information on diet, exercise, drugs, alcohol, safe sex, and mental health.
- Vaccines — especially the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine — are an essential part of preventive care for teenage girls.
Teenage girls experience a range of physical, social, mental, and emotional changes as they approach maturity. Navigating these changes can be challenging for teens and parents alike.
According to Dr. Maura Conway, a family medicine physician at Western Connecticut Medical Group Newtown Primary Care, this increased desire for independence and control makes the teenage years an ideal time for parents and healthcare clinicians to encourage young girls to take an active role in managing their health.
Dr. Maura Conway, Family Medicine Physician, Western Connecticut Medical Group Newtown Primary Care
In the wake of the initial COVID-19 surge, ensuring that teenage girls resume routine health screenings and preventive care is another way that parents can help their daughters set the stage for a lifetime of health. Patients can expect positive changes during their next visit to a Nuvance Health Medical Practices primary care office. For more information, visit nuvancehealth.org/safecare.
Here’s a checklist of important health screenings that Dr. Conway recommends for teenage girls:
Although it can be tempting to skip annual well-child exams during the teenage years, these annual exams are an opportunity for young women to receive important preventive screenings.
Girls should have their cholesterol level tested at least once in early adolescence. Plus, Connecticut state law requires that teens receive routine hemoglobin screenings in sixth grade and ninth grade to check the level of iron in their blood.
Because some teens may feel embarrassed to discuss certain health topics around their parents, healthcare clinicians will usually begin to speak to teens alone during part of the visit.
“During teen wellness exams, parents are usually in the room to start so they can help answer health history questions,” said Dr. Conway. “Then, the parents step out and we discuss various health topics and answer any questions the teen may have. After that, the parents come back in for the exam.”
Although an in-person exam is typically required during an annual physical, teens may be able to conveniently access follow-up or sick care services from the comfort of their home using Virtual Visits. For more information, to schedule an appointment, or to find a clinician, visit nuvancehealth.org/virtualvisits.
Diet and Exercise Counseling
Healthy diet and exercise habits developed during the teenage years can set the stage for lifelong wellness. During well-child exams for teenagers, healthcare clinicians will provide nutritional counseling and screen for obesity, diabetes, and eating disorders.
Drug and Alcohol Awareness
Healthcare clinicians will talk to teens and young adults during their annual exam about the dangers of using alcohol and drugs, including illegal drugs, marijuana, prescription medications. They will also discuss the use of e-cigarettes, or vaping, which is becoming more popular among teens and has been linked to serious health issues.
“We talk about abstaining from alcohol and drugs, especially because we’re seeing more and more teens vaping and using marijuana,” said Dr. Conway. “While we caution not to use alcohol and drugs at all, we also emphasize the importance of not driving under the influence or getting into a car with somebody else who’s under the influence.”
Pediatricians and primary care clinicians will talk with teens about what to expect during puberty, and provide awareness-focused information on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and sexual health.
Adolescence is a time when teens begin to explore their sexuality. So it’s especially important for healthcare clinicians to create an inclusive, accepting environment where teens feel comfortable discussing sexual health, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
“I talk about sexual health a lot in the family medicine setting,” said Dr. Conway. “I talk with my teen patients about gender identity and sexuality while still discussing male/female health — because, biologically speaking, we need to make teens aware of health concerns.”
Healthcare clinicians may also discuss social media safety as it relates to sexuality.
“I counsel my teenage patients to avoid sending sexual images and sharing private information that they don’t want everyone to know,” said Dr. Conway.
Mental Health Screenings
As the pressures of activities, school, work, family, and friends increases, it’s becoming more common for teens to feel overwhelmed and struggle with managing stress. That’s why healthcare clinicians now routinely ask teens about stress levels and screen for mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
“I spend more than half my day talking about mental health in the office, for kids and adults alike,” said Dr. Conway. “We need to work on destigmatizing discussions about mental health and let teens know that it’s okay if they need medications to help them.”
Gynecological health is an important topic for teenage girls, especially as they approach sexual maturity.
“Together with my patients, we’ll talk about menstruation and birth control,” said Dr. Conway. “Birth control pills can be prescribed at this age if a teen is having irregular periods or severe symptoms related to their period.”
Primary care clinicians can address many gynecological health concerns, including STIs and problems with menstruation — and they can also perform Pap tests and gynecological exams. However, Pap tests are not recommended for women until age 21. Teenage girls are typically not referred to a gynecologist unless they are having a problem that may require surgery.
Teenage girls should receive several routine vaccinations, including:
- An annual flu vaccine
- A Tdap booster every 10 years to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough), or a Td booster to protect against only tetanus and diphtheria
- A meningococcal vaccine to protect against meningitis
- An HPV vaccine to protect against human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, which can cause anal, cervical, throat, and vaginal cancers in women
The Food and Drug Administration approved the HPV vaccine for kids and adults ages 9 to 45. The HPV vaccine is most beneficial if it’s given before someone become sexually active. That’s why Dr. Conway recommends for kids to get the HPV vaccine around age 11 or 12. If kids receive the HPV vaccine before age 15, they only need two doses; those who receive the vaccine after age 15 need three doses. The HPV vaccine is currently the only available vaccine that can prevent cancer.
“HPV is a rampant infection. That’s why it’s critical to vaccinate kids before they become sexually active in order to decrease their risk of contracting HPV and developing HPV-related cancers,” said Dr. Conway. “In our office, some parents are hesitant to give their kids the HPV vaccine because it has a reputation of side effects. However, experiencing serious side effects from the HPV vaccine is actually quite rare.”
Dental, Hearing, and Eye Exams
Teens should receive a dental exam and cleaning every six months. Hearing exams should be given at ages 11 and 12, and then at even number ages (14, 16, 18, etc.). Eye exams should be scheduled as needed.
The Bottom Line
Well-child visits are an opportunity for teenage girls to receive important preventive screenings and vaccines, as well as learn more about the changes they are experiencing during adolescence. Healthcare clinicians can also provide teens with awareness-focused information on diet, exercise, drugs, alcohol, safe sex, and mental health.
This health checklist is a great starting point to prepare parents and their kids for what they may expect health-wise when they’re in their adolescent and teenage years. But remember, everyone is unique. Parents and kids should speak with their healthcare clinician about their own personal health history, family health history, race/ethnicity, and lifestyle to know what types of screenings, tests, and support makes sense for them.
To schedule an appointment with a Western Connecticut Medical Group primary care clinician, visit our website or call (203) 739 4700.
Amy Forni, Manager, Public Relations
(203) 739 7478 | Amy.Forni@nuvancehealth.org