Every physician makes mistakes, and I understand that. Unfortunately for doctors, the mistakes we make can cost kids their lives. For most of us, thankfully, there are enough checks in our work to keep the fallout of those mistakes to a minimum.
One of the best checks is parental intuition. So parents, keep listening to that small voice inside you that asks, Are you sure this is right? whenever anyone tells you something important about your children.
Recently, one mother wrote to me about a friend’s bad experience with a pediatrician. Her friend took her son to the doctor. When discussing sexual activity, the pediatrician advised the 13-year-old boy (in front of his mother) that he could begin sex when he felt “ready.” Huh? What medical school did he go to?
Has the doctor not visited the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (note the title) website in the past ten years and read that the U.S. currently suffers from a sexually transmitted disease epidemic, which has hit teens the hardest? Has he not noticed that only a few short years ago 15.3 million Americans contracted a new STD each year and that number recently swelled to 20 million (half of whom are young people)?
Maybe he believes that condoms are his patient’s magic bullet. If so, has he read what the NIH said about the efficacy of condoms in their report? I quote, “condoms at best reduce the risk of HIV and gonorrhea in men but for all other STD’s, there is insufficient evidence that they reduce the risk at all.”
If you are a parent of a teen, sadly, your pediatrician probably will tell your son or daughter that sex is their decision. She will offer guidance about birth control, maybe give the speech on the importance of using condoms, and try to say these things without you present. Your doctor isn’t trying to be a bad physician; the problem is, she’s just not paying attention.
She is bombarded with meetings about insurance regulations, phone calls and emails about infant feeding issues, and just trying to keep her head above water. The bottom line is, reading about teens and STD’s isn’t on the top of her medical reading list because, well, it’s pretty unpleasant. And another thing—she doesn’t really think she can keep your son or daughter away from sex. Your pediatrician knows it’s not good for your teen’s health, but she is tired and has given in (as many physicians have) to simply trying to do “damage control.”
That’s why you, Mom or Dad, need to be on the ball. You need to know what the risks are to your teens if they begin having sex. Listen to your instincts. Your heart tells you that your 13-year-old son isn’t ready, so pay attention.
But what about when your daughter is in her late teens? Is your 17-year-old ready? Nope. Let me give you an anatomy lesson.
The skin over the cervix of a teen/young adult woman is made up of columnar epithelium. The skin is tender and when it comes in contact with HPV, herpes, gonorrhea, etc., it is damaged (turns cancerous) more easily than the skin over the cervix of a 25- or 30-year-old woman. As a woman ages, the columnar epithelium turns to squamous epithelium, which is tougher; it becomes more disease resistant, if you will. So, whether your teen is “ready or not ready” to start sex, her cervix isn’t.
The next time someone—even your physician—tells your son or daughter something that doesn’t sit well with you, trust your instincts and speak up. Educate yourself (I have written extensively about teens and sex in Your Kids at Risk) and teach your kids yourself.
Doctors, teachers, and sex educators make all sorts of mistakes so roll up your sleeves and teach your kids what you know. The good news is, they’ll always listen to you—not the others—in the long run.