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Ages & Stages

Information for Teens: What You Need to Know About Privacy

Who do you talk with when you need advice about your health and personal life?

While it’s best to talk with your parents (or guardians), they might not be your first choice.

If you are too embarrassed or worry about how your parents will react, it’s important that you talk with an adult who can give you trusted advice, like your doctor.

Your doctor…

  • Respects your privacy.
  • Has answered all kinds of questions from other teens.
  • Is an expert in health issues and will want to ask you private questions about your health to help you make healthy decisions.
  • Can help you find a way to talk with your parents or other trusted adult(s) in your life.

The following are some questions teens have asked about providing privacy and their health concerns:

Questions about privacy

Q: How do I talk with my doctor in private?

A: Just ask. Time can be set aside by your doctor to talk privately during almost every visit.

Q: What can I talk about with my doctor?

A: You can and should talk with your doctor (or the office nurse) about ANYTHING and EVERYTHING.

Sometimes your doctor will ask questions about school, your friends, and family members. Sometimes your doctor will ask you personal things like how you’re feeling or what you like to do in your free time.

The more your doctor knows about you, the better he or she is able to answer your questions or concerns.

Q: Will my doctor tell my parents what we talked about?

A: Your doctor will keep the details of what you talk about private, or confidential. The only times when your doctor cannot honor your privacy is when someone is hurting you or you are going to hurt yourself or someone else. There are state laws that require doctors to share information when there is a concern about someone possibly getting hurt.

If this happens, you and your doctor will talk about how to share any information necessary to keep everybody safe.

At your next visit be sure to…

  • Ask your doctor about what things can be kept confidential where you live.
  • Tell your doctor if some of the things you talk about can be shared with your parents.
  • Ask your doctor who has access to your medical records (paper and electronic) and if your records are secure.
  • Discuss any privacy concerns if you communicate with your doctor by e-mail or on the phone.

Q: If I see my doctor on my own, won’t my parents find out when they get the bill?

A: You should ask your doctor, as it depends on the type of insurance that your family has.

Ask your doctor what steps are taken to protect your information when records need to be shared with insurance companies and other health care professionals outside your doctor’s office.

Questions about sex and sexuality

Q: Why do I need to tell my doctor if I’m having sex?

A: Your doctor needs to know that you are having sex or plan to have sex to help you make safe and healthy decisions that are best for you.

If you don’t have reliable information about condoms and other forms of birth control, you could get pregnant or sexually transmitted infections (STIs), also called sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV. Also, if you have any infection, it’s important for you and your partner to know so that treatment can occur.

Q: Can I get tested for an STI without my parents knowing?

A: Every state allows for teens to be tested and treated for STIs without your parents knowing. Talk with your doctor about your concerns and how to receive this type of care.

Q: Can I get the pill (or other types of birth control) on my own?

A: In many states, you have the right to family planning services, including birth control and emergency contraception, without permission from your parents. If you feel you can’t talk with your doctor, there are public clinics such as STI clinics, sometimes referred to as family planning clinics, in most every community. At these clinics teens can get tested for STIs and get birth control on their own. School health clinics might also be able to provide family planning services without parents’ permission. Talk with your doctor to make sure this is true where you live.

Q: Will my doctor tell my parents if I’m gay, lesbian, or bisexual?

A: No, your doctor will not share this information with your parents unless there are serious concerns about your safety, such as if you were feeling so sad that you were thinking of hurting yourself. Even then, your doctor would tell your parents that you were depressed and need help but would not reveal your sexual orientation. Your doctor may be able to help you decide if and how to tell others.

Q: What if I was forced to have sex?

A: Getting raped is very traumatic. If you are forced to have sex by anyone, even someone you’re in a relationship with or someone you know, it’s a crime!

You have the right to have all care related to this issue delivered in a confidential manner. Specifically, you have the right to have evidence collected and to call the police to press charges. You also have the right to receive or refuse STI testing and treatment, including emergency contraception (the “morning after” pill) to prevent pregnancy, and rape crisis counseling. Remember that your doctor is available to help you get through this difficult event.

Questions about alcohol and drugs

Q: Do I have to take a drug test if my school or parents ask me to?

A: You have the right to refuse drug testing; however, be sure you understand what might happen if you refuse. For example, you might not be allowed to stay in school or play sports. Your parents are likely concerned about your safety or do not trust you, so they might take away privileges, such as driving and going out at night with your friends. Sometimes, the best idea is to consent to drug testing to prove to your parents that you are NOT using drugs.

Q: I have a drinking (or drug) problem and I want to stop before my parents find out. Where can I get help?

A: While it’s best to talk honestly with your parents, you can usually start to get help without their permission by seeing a counselor to get help for alcohol or drug use problems. Your doctor can help you find a counselor or program. In most cases, parents are disappointed that their child is using alcohol or drugs, but when their teen has asked for help, most parents are relieved and support treatment. Your doctor can also help you tell your parents. It’s important that they are part of your treatment.

Other questions

Q: What if I don’t have parents caring for me and I am in foster care?

A: You have the same rights; however, any information in your foster agency file may be shared with your foster parents, those interested in adopting you, and the foster care agency staff.

Q: How do I tell my parents I’m failing some classes in school?

A: Your doctor can help you think through a plan so that you, or you and your doctor together, can tell your parents. They are likely to hear the news from the school, so hearing it from you first is usually better. If it’s not possible to talk with your parents about this, confide in another trusted adult such as a school counselor, a relative, a friend, or someone from your place of worship. Help is available.

Q: Sometimes I can’t stop feeling sad or worried and I think about hurting myself. Who can help me?

A: If you are thinking of hurting yourself or your life is in danger, your doctor will have to tell your parents. Your doctor also may refer you for an emergency evaluation to keep you safe. Tell your doctor or school counselor if you are feeling worried, very upset, or depressed. There are many ways to try to help you feel better. Your doctor or counselor will be able to help find the right treatment for you.

Health tips

The following are ways you can take charge of your health:

  • Be honest. Your doctor needs to know all the facts to best help you. This includes if you are on any special diets, are taking any medicines, or have any health problems.
  • Ask questions. It’s important that you understand the health information and advice you are receiving and that you can trust the source. Sometimes medical terms can be confusing, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. No question is stupid!
  • Talk with your parents. If it’s possible, try talking with your parents. Your doctor may have suggestions on what you can say.
  • Keep in touch with your doctor. Check in with your doctor once a year, not only when you are sick. Make sure your doctor has your current address and phone number. Keep your doctor’s contact information too.
  • Be responsible. Seek help and advice when you need it. Don’t miss your appointments; reschedule visits when needed; and follow up with your doctor when you have questions.

An important message for parents

Now that your son or daughter is a teenager, his or her body and feelings are changing. It’s important to keep a close relationship with your teen, but this also means encouraging the ability to make healthy decisions and allowing your teen to talk alone with the doctor at each visit. This will help your teen learn about himself or herself, develop a trusting relationship, and make healthy decisions. The doctor will encourage your teen to share information with you, but there may be some things he or she would rather talk about initially with the doctor, and that’s OK. The most important thing is that your teen is talking with a responsible adult about his or her health concerns.

For more information:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Center for Young Women’s Health (Children’s Hospital Boston)

The Medical Institute

Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays

Planned Parenthood

Sex, etc. (sex education for teens by teens developed by Answer, Rutgers University)

STD Wizard

Young Men’s Health (Children’s Hospital Boston)

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2010)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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