Saying Goodbye to Childhood and Your Pediatrician

News Archive October 06, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Childhood and Your Pediatrician

Loyola University Health System Adolescent Expert Gives Tips for the Transition to “Adult” Medicine

MAYWOOD, Ill. – Though the medical milestone of leaving one’s pediatrician for most doesn’t have its own page in the childhood memory book, it can be a difficult step for both kids and parents. Pediatric medicine generally refers to care for people from birth through age 21. Though the actual age of when a young person must enter the world of adult medicine may vary, the reality is that sooner or later it’s time to say goodbye to the pediatrician.

It’s not always an easy transition to medical “adulthood.” In many ways teens and young adults seem to be growing up faster, dealing with more “adult” topics and issues at an earlier age. On the other hand, many are slow to take on responsibilities even as simple as getting up on their own in the morning or completing tasks around the house.

 “As a society we would like a one-size-fits-all approach to growing up. We want to say you’re an adult and ready for adult responsibility when you turn 18, but that this rarely is the case. Children mature at different times and this is especially apparent in the teen and young-adult years. What works for one child at age 16 might be too much for another who is 21,” said Garry Sigman, MD, adolescent medicine expert at Loyola University Health System and associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

Adult medicine physicians expect their patients to take an active interest and responsibility in their own health care. Patients need to know their medical history, medications, insurance information and how to navigate the health-care system.

“This can be daunting for even the most responsible of adults, let alone an adolescent who is just branching out into the world of responsibility,” Sigman said.

It can be a tough transition for parents, too, especially if the child has a chronic illness.

“Parents want to be helpful, and honestly, it’s often easier and less time-consuming to take care of a child’s medical needs than to teach them to do it themselves. But, independence comes slowly and it’s important to give your children the tools they need to care for themselves as adults,” Sigman said.

So how can parents make this transition easier? According to Sigman, one of the best things they can do is teach their children to take responsibility for their own medical needs.

“The adolescent period should be used to practice and learn skills needed for self-care.  Let the teen have a say in the treatment plan, help your teen understand his or her prescribed medications and how to use them, and let your adolescent be the primary communicator with the doctor. Allow the teen to speak up if he or she does not agree with the treatment plan or has reservations.  It’s hard to let go, but it will better prepare the child for what is ahead,” Sigman said.

He also suggests working with the pediatrician to slowly move responsibility for your child’s health from you, the parent, to the adolescent. It will make the transition easier and smoother.

Here are some ways to get started:

When in the doctor’s office, have the pediatrician talk to the child, not the parent, about symptoms and medical history. Allow the teen to be alone in the exam room for some time with the doctor.

When a health concern arises, instead of asking mom or dad for advice, encourage teens to contact the doctor or nurse directly by phone or e-mail.

Discuss consumer issues like health insurance statements and bills so your child understands the costs involved and how to best utilize health-care dollars.

“Also, ask your pediatrician if he or she has any recommendations for a new doctor. He or she knows your child and will know several internists who would be a good fit,” Sigman said. “Remember, when your child sees an adult internist, you will not be invited into the room. By taking these steps your young adult will feel more prepared to talk like an adult to the physician and you’ll know your child is ready to be an advocate for his or her own health.” 

For media inquiries, please contact Evie Polsley at epolsley@lumc.edu or call (708) 216-5313 or (708) 417-5100.

Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus is a 559-licensed-bed hospital that houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 255-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.
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