Teen Physicals: What to Expect and How to Prepare Your Teen
While this new phase of life may be tricky to navigate and, at times, uncomfortable for both you and your teenager, it shouldn’t deter either of you from getting these important health checks.
By Ashley Antle
They grow up so fast. One minute you’re rocking your baby in your arms and breathing in their sweet baby smell from the top of their head, and the next you’re carting them off to the doctor for their teen physical and wellness check.
In many ways, for both parents and kids, it feels like an altogether different experience from their yearly infant and child well-checks. But, in reality, it’s not different at all, save for the fact that your baby has matured into a teen who now values a certain level of modesty and privacy when it comes to their bodies. This can make the routine check of the genital area which is a part of every physical a bit “cringey,” as your teen might say. Let’s face it, it’s uncomfortable for parents, too, as they come to terms with their child’s increasing independence.
“I think parents think they're different and I think the only reason that they feel it's different is that, of course, the teenager at this point now does a lot of stuff on their own, meaning they have their privacy,” explained Bianka Soria-Olmos, D.O., Medical Advisor for Digital Health. “The parent isn't in full knowledge of things like bowel habits or genital development and abnormalities because they’re not changing a diaper or helping with bath time every day.”
What to Expect
When Dr. Soria-Olmos examines the genitals during a patient wellness check — be it for a baby, child or teen — she says she is inspecting for the same things. Is the child following a normal developmental path? Are they entering puberty too early? Are there any visible abnormalities of the genitalia? These exams are general visual inspections. Nothing invasive.
For boys, pediatricians examine the penis, testicles and scrotum. When inspecting the scrotum, they may ask your child to turn their head and cough as the pediatrician feels the scrotal sac. This helps reveal inguinal hernias or tumors. Slightly embarrassing for your teen? Yes, but absolutely necessary. Undetected inguinal hernias can rupture and be very painful, or even dangerous, for your teen.
Inguinal hernias are particularly dangerous for teen boys playing sports, as a direct blow to the genitalia could lead to hernia rupture. This is why most teen boys are required by their school to have physicals prior to playing contact sports, but they’re important even if your kiddo isn’t suiting up each week for Friday night football.
“I remind my parents of kiddos who say, ‘I'm not playing sports, so I don't need that check,’ that we still need to make sure that we have a normal anatomy and that we don't have a hernia,” Dr. Soria-Olmos cautioned. “Because an undiagnosed hernia, even if not playing sports, can be dangerous.”
Girls will also undergo a visual exam of their genitals to make sure their development is coming along at a normal pace. Unless there is a complaint of pain or other concern, Dr. Soria-Olmos says teen girls do not need an internal gynecological exam. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynocologists recommends women begin having regular Pap smears at age 21.
You can help your teen gain some level of comfort with these exams by talking to them prior to their physical about what to expect and why these checks are necessary. Dr. Soria-Olmos makes this discussion a regular part of her patients’ yearly wellness checks as they grow and mature. She also uses it as a springboard to talk about body safety and the difference between an appropriate medical exam under the consent and supervision of their guardian versus inappropriate touching.
In addition to a genital exam, all of the normal body system checks occur, too — ears, eyes, nose, throat, mouth, abdomen, back, legs, arms and thyroid glands. You’ll hear the same questions about your teen’s nutrition, sleeping habits and physical activity as you did when they were younger. If mom or dad has expressed concerns or the doctor detects any red flags about mental health, sexual activity, alcohol use, drug use, smoking, signs of an eating disorder or other risky behaviors, your pediatrician may broach these subjects with you and your teen.
“We only talk about this when the physical is done,” Dr. Soria-Olmos said. “And then always gauging the parent’s comfort for allowing their teen to have a conversation with or without the parent in the room.”
If you have a concern about your teen, or feel they may be more comfortable talking to the doctor about an issue, it’s okay to alert your pediatrician ahead of time so that they are aware your teen might have something they want to discuss.
“Ideally, I try to foster this type of open communication,” Dr. Soria Olmos said. “We are all here together to help the child. It’s important that mom, dad and doctor are all on the same page about what is going on with their teen.”
While this new phase of life may be tricky to navigate and, at times, uncomfortable for both you and your teenager, it shouldn’t deter either of you from getting these important health checks. In addition to protecting their health, it teaches your teen to be responsible for taking care of their bodies as they move out from under your wings and into adulthood.
Get to know Bianka Soria-Olmos, D.O.
Dr. Soria-Olmos is a Cook Children's pediatrician in Haslet. She was born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas, so Cook Children's has always had a special place in her heart. She came to know Cook Children's when she was just a kid herself. She went to the medical center a number of times with her active younger brother, who needed care following several mishaps with broken bones. The visits inspired her to decide, "I want to be a Cook Children’s doctor one day."
In pursuit of her dream, Dr. Soria-Olmos attended Texas Christian University (TCU) for a degree in biology and to fulfill the pre-medical school requirements. After graduating from TCU, she chose to stay local and attended medical school at the University of North Texas Health Science Center/Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Worth. She completed part of her pediatric clerkship at Cook Children's, learning about pediatric medicine by attending rounds with pediatric hospitalists. It was then she knew she wanted to be a pediatrician.
She began her career with Cook Children's in 2014 as a pediatric hospitalist caring for sick children admitted to the hospital. Today, she works at Cook Children's primary care office in Haslet. Her special interests include child safety, child development and asthma..