For an adult woman, regular visits to a GYN or OB-GYN are routine. For a teen girl, however, the thought of the first gynecological exam can be nerve-wracking. Recommendations for when a young girl should first visit the gynecologist vary, but generally, most agree that she should start seeing a GYN somewhere in her early teens, after she's begun menstruating but preferably before she becomes sexually active. Take a look at some of the things you can do to help prepare your teen for this important health milestone.
Let Her Choose the Doctor
Up until this point, you've probably chosen your teenager's doctors. The relationship between a patient and a gynecologist is very personal, and it's important that your teen feels comfortable, so she should have input into this decision. Chances are that your teen won't have a specific doctor in mind (although it's possible that she will if a friend or trusted relative has recommended a particular doctor), but she will probably have opinions about what type of doctor she would like to see.
Very often, teen girls start off by seeing the same GYN that their mother sees, but not always. For example, if you're a mom who sees a male GYN, your daughter may prefer a woman for her first appointment or vice versa. Ask your daughter about her preferences, and assure her that if, after the first appointment, she's not comfortable with that doctor, she doesn't have to stick with them and that you'll help her find a new doctor the next time.
Tell Her What to Expect
Not knowing what's going to happen – or having misconceptions about what is going to happen – is a large part of the reason why GYN appointments can seem so scary to teens. Walk her through what an appointment is likely to look like ahead of time.
The good news for your teen is that she probably won't need a Pap smear just yet. Current recommendations from the American Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) are that women should begin getting yearly Pap smears at the age of 21. That means that your teen should have at least a few years to get comfortable with her doctor and with regular gynecological exams before that particular procedure.
However, you should let your teen know that they'll probably have to give a urine sample, answer many personal questions, and undergo a breast exam. If they have any symptoms that warrant it, the doctor may also do a pelvic exam. Let your teen know that she'll be asked about things like the date of her last period and whether or not she's sexually active. She may also need to answer questions about her family medical history, so make sure that she's aware of any relevant information that she should share with the doctor.
Encourage Her to Speak Honestly
The ability to both answer questions honestly and ask any questions she might have is important. The more frank information the doctor can get, the better decisions and recommendations she can make for your daughter. It's important to encourage your teen to speak honestly, even about things that seem embarrassing or that she might not want you to know.
Don't insist on accompanying your daughter into the exam room. You should definitely stay with your teen if that's what she prefers, but if she asks to go alone, respect her wishes. Remind her that anything she says to the doctor is confidential, even to you. The most important thing here is your daughter's health, so make it as easy as you can for her to speak freely to the doctor.
For most teens, the first GYN appointment won't result in any major revelations, but it's still a very important experience. You want your daughter to continue to take her health seriously as an adult, and setting up good health care habits now lays a foundation for good health care habits as an adult. Routine gynecological exams are a vital part of women's health, and these early experiences will help get your teen off to a good start. Contact your local women's health clinic or speak with professionals like George L Stankevych, MD for more information.