The big day you thought would never come is here—the day your teenager moves away from home. To say this can be unnerving for parents may be an understatement. Typically, your young adult is ready to take on the world, but you may not be so sure. You know what is out there and wonder if you’ve done enough to prepare them.
When a teenager leaves the nest, it can be a time of transition with healthcare. The pediatrician they’ve seen for years will no longer be nearby, and you may have questions about insurance coverage or what to do if there’s an emergency.
“This is often times very difficult for parents, because the young adult is gaining a great deal of autonomy in terms of making decisions,” says Dr. Itkin. “For the first time, the teenager will be making decisions which may be very impactful on the rest of their life.”
These choices can be scary for parents. Will your daughter wake up for her 8 a.m. class? Will your son know how to cook his own dinner? Or, the more serious issues can weigh on you, like wondering if your teenager will be experiment with substances, sex or other social behaviors while away from home.
Teach Them to Take Responsibility for their Health
Before sending teens off to college, it is helpful to schedule a physical with your pediatrician. This is a good time to make sure all immunizations and vaccinations are up-to-date and set them up for success moving forward.
“When I have my last physical with them at that point, I talk about making wise choices,” says Dr. Itkin “Now they’re becoming responsible for themselves and they have to grow up. If they have a health issue, they have to address it.”
Sometimes young adults may feel embarrassed to go to an unfamiliar doctor or seek medical care in a new place. However they can’t assume they’re immune to problems, because they may need to seek out care.
“I also talk to them about wise choices with substance abuse, sexuality and sexual behavior,” says Dr. Itkin. “When you’re away from home, you might think that you can do things because mom and dad won’t find out, but I’m frank about that.”
Helping Your Teen Stay Healthy Away from Home
Dr. Itkin recommends some ways to help your young adult while away:
- Make a friend—Find a roommate or friend who will check in with them on a routine basis. Someone who will know where they are, and at the end of the day know if they’re not there or something went wrong.
- Home contact information—Somewhere in their room where it is visible, post home contact information in case of emergency.
- Lock medications—If your teen takes medications, it’s good to keep them under lock and key to avoid diversion and theft.
- Find the student health center—Most campuses will have a health center of some kind, and if they need to see a physician, it’s a nearby place to go.
- Know your physician’s contact info—Make sure your child inputs your pediatrician’s phone number before leaving for school because some doctors will allow you to contact them if you have questions. Also have them download MyChart on their smartphone to quickly reference medical records or ask questions.
- Be aware of risks—Talk to your teen about driving impaired or sexual assault, and look up local information or hotlines. Some cities have complimentary taxi service with no questions asked.
- Locate a nearby emergency room—When sending your precious teenager away to school, swing by a local hospital or emergency room as part of your tour. If anything, they will know where an emergency room is and how to get there.
- Establish a new provider—It will come time when your adolescent may not come home as often. Talk to them about the importance of continuing their care with annual checkups and monitoring with a new physician.
“Here at Scott & White, we’re very fortunate because anyone that will stay with us after they leave as a pediatric patient won’t have to do anything with their medical records,” says Dr. Itkin. “All they have to do if they return to Central Texas is pick a new adult provider.”
Most of all, keep in mind that adolescents often refuse to believe they have a medical problem when illness arises. Whether they’ve been away from home a day or a year, stay approachable as an ally for their continued well-being.