As a women’s health care provider, one of the most common questions I am asked from mothers of teen girls during an annual exam is “When do I bring my daughter in for her first gynecology exam?”.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that girls first see a gynecologist when they are between the ages of 10 and 15. This is an opportunity to transition an adolescent from the pediatric to the adult health care setting in the most non-threatening way possible. A general health exam is usually all that is needed.
What if my daughter isn’t ready to start the transition to adult care by the time she is 15?
Adolescence is a complex period of development that involves distinct developmental transitions. It is importance to recognize that growth in one area (intellectual, physical, or emotional) may or may not correspond with the teen’s chronological age. All teens, on the other hand, are expected to deal with peer pressures associated with their school (social) setting. Thinking in these terms guides the gynecologist in providing a supportive environment to discuss everything from body image to healthy relationships. Understanding that it can be normal to get a period as young as 9 and as late as 15 is importance during this fragile time. It also allows teens to make sense of confusion or challenges that they may face with school or at home.
The first wellness exam in the gynecology office can provide three main purposes:
- To provide accurate information and confidential answers to questions regarding her changing body, menstruation, sex, and sexuality.
- To learn about healthy lifestyles, sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy prevention.
- To provide evaluation and treatment for teenagers who experience abnormal vaginal bleeding, painful periods, unusual vaginal secretions, or other problems that may be associated with reproductive health.
I made an appointment for my daughter’s first gynecology exam, but she is refusing to go!
Providing your adolescent daughter with an opportunity to transition to women’s health care may sound like a great idea to an adult but the message received by the “teen brain” can be quite different.
Most teen girls know that their mothers see a gynecologist regularly. It has been stigmatized as a painful rite of passage to endure ones first pelvic exam. It is no wonder that the idea of seeing a gynecologist for the first time can make any adolescent feel nervous, embarrassed, or even scared. Studies show that mothers have the biggest impact on their daughters self esteem. Start by reassuring your daughter that even though there are a lot of different parts of the gynecological visit, the actual physical exam — and the part she might feel most uncomfortable about — doesn’t take long or include very much.
Explaining why the visit is necessary, giving the adolescent a sense of what to expect, and addressing fears are important precursors to this first visit. Reassure your daughter that the visit allows both teen and parent the chance to visit together to further alleviate fears and develop trust. Ask her if she would like you to be in the exam room with her. Whatever your daughter decides, allow her some time alone with the provider. Remember that alone time will allow her to recognize the provider as an objective and knowledgeable person to talk to about any concerns she may have in the future. What a great way for your daughter to develop a relationship with her gynecologist, so that she is comfortable sharing personal information in the future!
My daughter just had her first with the gynecologist, now what?
Congratulations on taking that first step to helping empower your daughter’s journey into women’s health! Once you and your daughter have gone to the first visit, encourage her to talk about the experience (as much as she is comfortable). If she indicates that the provider made her feel uncomfortable, discuss finding a new one. Once she starts, your daughter should continue to go for gynecologic visits every year to keep her informed and healthy.