The Basics: Overview
Teens ages 15 to 17 need to go to the doctor or nurse for a “well-child visit” once a year.
A well-child visit is when you take your teen to the doctor for a full checkup to make sure they’re healthy and developing normally. This is different from other visits for sickness or injury.
At a well-child visit, the doctor or nurse can help catch any problems early, when they may be easier to treat.
To make the most of your teen’s visit:
- Gather important information
- Make a list of questions for the doctor
- Know what to expect from the visit
- Help your teen get more involved in the visit
The Basics: Child Development
How do I know if my teen is growing and developing on schedule?
Your teen’s doctor or nurse can help you identify “developmental milestones,” or signs to look for that show your teen is developing normally. This is an important part of the well-child visit.
Some developmental milestones are related to your teen’s behavior and learning, and others are about physical changes in your teen’s body.
The Basics: Behavior Changes
What are some changes I might see in my teen’s behavior?
Developmental milestones for teens ages 15 to 17 include:
- Spending less time with family and more time with friends
- Fighting with parents less than ages 13 and 14
- Worrying more about the future (like going to college or finding a job)
- Thinking more about romantic relationships and sex
- Trying new things, including experimenting with tobacco, alcohol, or drugs
This is also a time when some teens may start showing signs of depression, anxiety, or eating disorders. That’s why it’s important to make sure the doctor screens your teen for depression.
The Basics: Physical Changes
What are some physical changes my teen is going through?
Teens ages 15 to 17 are usually either finished with puberty or close to finishing puberty. Puberty is when a child’s body develops into an adult’s body.
- Most girls finish puberty by age 15. Get more information about puberty to share with your daughter
- Most boys finish puberty by age 16. Get more information about puberty to share with your son
Teens might not ask you questions about sex, their bodies, or relationships. That’s why it’s a good idea for you to start the conversation. You can also encourage your teen to ask the doctor or nurse any questions they have about body changes or other health concerns.
Take Action: Get Ready
Take these steps to help you and your teen get the most out of well-child visits.
Gather important information.
Take any medical records you have to the appointment, including a record of vaccines (shots) your teen has received.
Make a list of any important changes in your teen’s life since the last visit, like a:
- New brother or sister
- Separation or divorce
- New school or a move to a new neighborhood
- Serious illness or death of a friend or family member
Use this tool to keep track of your teen’s family health history.
Help your teen get more involved in visits to the doctor.
The doctor will probably ask you to leave the room during part of the visit, usually the physical exam. This lets your teen develop a relationship with the doctor or nurse and ask questions in private. It’s an important step in teaching your teen to take control of their health care.
Your teen can also:
- Call to schedule appointments
- Help you fill out medical forms
- Write down questions for the doctor or nurse
What about cost?
Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans must cover well-child visits. Depending on your insurance, your teen may be able to get well-child checkups at no cost to you. Check with your insurance company to learn more.
Take Action: Ask Questions
Make a list of questions you want to ask the doctor.
Before the well-child visit, write down 3 to 5 questions you have. This visit is a great time to ask the doctor or nurse any questions about:
- A health condition your teen has (like acne or asthma)
- Changes in your teen’s behavior or mood
- Loss of interest in favorite activities
- Your teen’s sexual development
- Tobacco, alcohol, or drug use
- Problems at school (like learning challenges or not wanting to go to school)
Here are some questions you may want to ask:
- Is my teen up to date on vaccines?
- How can I make sure my teen is getting enough physical activity?
- How can I help my teen eat healthy?
- Is my teen at a healthy weight?
- How can our family set rules more effectively?
- How can I help my teen become a safe driver?
- How can I talk with my teen about tobacco, alcohol, and drugs?
Take a notepad, smartphone, or tablet and write down the answers so you can remember them later.
Ask what to do if your teen gets sick.
Make sure you know how to get in touch with a doctor or nurse when the office is closed. Ask how to get hold of the doctor on call, or if there's a nurse information service you can call at night or on the weekend.
Take Action: What to Expect
Know what to expect.
During each well-child visit, the doctor or nurse will ask you questions, do a physical exam, and update your teen’s medical history. You and your teen will also be able to ask your questions and discuss any problems.
The doctor or nurse will ask your teen questions.
The doctor or nurse may ask about:
- Behavior — Do you have trouble following directions at home or at school?
- Health — Do you often get headaches or have other kinds of pain?
- Safety — Do you always wear a seatbelt in the car? Do you and your friends use tobacco, alcohol, or drugs?
- School and activities — Do you look forward to going to school? What do you like to do after school?
- Eating habits — What do you eat on a regular day?
- Family and friends — Have there been any changes in your family recently? Do you have close friends?
- Emotions — Do you often feel sad or bored? Is there someone you trust who you can talk to about problems?
- Sexuality — Do you have any questions about your body? Do you have a boyfriend or girlfriend?
- The future — Have you started to think about what you want to do after high school?
The answers to questions like these will help the doctor or nurse make sure your teen is healthy, safe, and developing normally.
Take Action: Physical Exam
The doctor or nurse will also check your teen’s body.
To check your teen’s body, the doctor or nurse will:
- Measure height and weight and figure out your teen's body mass index (BMI)
- Check your teen’s blood pressure
- Check your teen's vision and hearing
- Check your teen’s body parts (called a physical exam)
- Decide if your teen needs any lab tests, like a blood test
- Give your teen vaccines they need
Take Action: Behavior and Emotions
The doctor or nurse will pay special attention to signs of certain issues.
The doctor or nurse will offer additional help if your teen may be:
- Struggling with an eating disorder
- Using tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs
- Experiencing any kind of violence
And if your teen may be having sex, the doctor or nurse will talk about preventing STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and pregnancy. Learn how to talk with your teen about preventing STDs.
The doctor or nurse will make sure you and your teen have the resources you need.
This may include telling you and your teen about:
- Websites or apps that have helpful health information
- Organizations in your community where you can go for help
If needed, the doctor or nurse may also refer your teen to a specialist.
Content last updated April 5, 2021
This information on well-child visits was adapted from materials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.
Trina Menden Anglin, M.D., Ph.D., FAAP
Chief, Adolescent Health Branch
Maternal and Child Health Bureau
Health Resources and Services Administration