- Annual wellness visits allow teenage boys to receive important preventive screenings and learn how to manage their health.
- In addition to performing screening tests, healthcare clinicians will discuss diet and exercise, drug and alcohol use, sexual health, mental health, and other topics during a teen wellness exam.
- Vaccines — including the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine — are an essential part of preventive care for teenage boys.
Teenage boys experience many milestones on their way to maturity, from growth spurts and puberty to a variety of mental and social changes. Teenage boys may also begin to strive for more control, seek independence from their parents, and place increasing importance on relationships with their peers.
According to Dr. Jay D’Orso, a pediatrician and internal medicine physician at Western Connecticut Medical Group Ridgefield Primary Care, this increased desire for independence and control makes the teenage years an ideal time for parents and healthcare clinicians to encourage young men to take an active role in managing their health.
Dr. Jay D’Orso, Pediatrics and Internal Medicine, Western Connecticut Medical Group Ridgefield Primary Care
In the wake of the initial COVID-19 surge, ensuring that teenage boys resume routine health screenings and preventive care is another way that parents can help their sons 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. D’Orso recommends for teenage boys:
Annual well-child exams during the teenage years are an opportunity for young men to receive important preventive screenings, appropriate counseling, and anticipatory guidance.
Young men 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.
Annual exams can also play a role in teaching teens how to take control of their health.
“At the pediatric/teenage annual wellness exam, we give kids a runway to take their health into their hands,” said Dr. D’Orso. “We direct the conversation to the teen, not the parent.”
Pediatricians are trained to use the acronym H.E.E.A.D.S.S.S. as a screening device to guide the physical, mental, and sexual health topics discussed with teens during annual wellness exams:
- Home: How is your home life? Who lives with you?
- Education/Employment: How are you doing in school? What are your career goals?
- Eating: What do you like to eat? Are you getting proper nutrition?
- Activities: Are you participating in any clubs or sports?
- Drugs: Are you using drugs or alcohol? Are you smoking or vaping?
- Sexuality: Are you sexually active? Are you involved in a relationship?
- Suicide and Depression: Are you having trouble with stress or emotions such as anger or sadness?
- Safety and Violence: Is there violence/bullying at home or school? Have you ever been hurt?
“We speak to teens alone at the end of the exam, and that is sometimes when they are most forthcoming,” said Dr. D’Orso. “They deserve a degree of privacy at this age. We also encourage our teenage patients to share information with their parents. And we notify parents if our patients are revealing any worrisome high-risk behaviors, such as self-harm.”
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.
“Nutritional counseling is a huge part of annual wellness exams for teens,” said Dr. D’Orso. “Obesity is an epidemic, so we want to make sure teenagers develop healthy diet and exercise habits, such as avoiding sugary drinks and foods high in fat, sugar, and sodium. We also counsel our teenage patients on balancing screen time with physical activity.”
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, and prescription medications. They will also ask teens about vaping — or the use of e-cigarettes, which is becoming more popular among teens and has been linked to serious health issues.
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 reproductive health. Because adolescence is a time when teens begin to explore their sexuality, 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.
“We’ve definitely evolved the way we talk about gender identity and sexual orientation,” said Dr. D’Orso. “For example, we’ll ask teens about any ‘special relationships’ instead of asking, ‘Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?’ We’re also seeing that more kids are comfortable talking about sexual orientation and related issues, which is promoting higher self-esteem.”
Mental Health Screenings
Healthcare clinicians will screen teens for overall mental health, including anxiety, depression, and stress.
“Stress levels in teens are exponentially higher today than they were years ago, so we want our patients to feel comfortable talking about their feelings and emotions,” said Dr. D’Orso. “Social media is also contributing to social, emotional, and behavioral issues, so it’s important for parents to monitor their teen’s overall well-being and be actively involved in surveillance of their teen’s social media platforms.”
Teenage boys 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, penile, and throat cancers in men
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.
“There is still a big stigma about the HPV vaccine, and healthcare clinicians can help to de-stigmatize the conversation,” said Dr. D’Orso. “Sixty to 80 percent of sexually active teens have HPV, which makes their cancer risk go way up. That’s why it’s important to vaccinate children before they even think about becoming sexually active.”
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 important opportunity for healthcare clinicians to talk to teenage boys about establishing lifelong healthy habits. Additionally, annual wellness visits allow teens to receive important preventive screenings and learn how to manage their 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.