There comes a day when every girl must take that first step and join a sisterhood of women taking control of their health. It can be exciting and terrifying – for both girls and their moms.

It's recommended that young women first see an obstetrician-gynecologist between the ages of 13 and 15, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Many teens simply don’t know what to expect when it comes to their first time at the OB-GYN. While some most fear the dreaded pelvic exam, teens should know that isn’t necessarily the most important part of their visit.

“We want to learn about their health history – surgical procedures, medications, drug allergies and immunizations,” said Dr. Susan Westcott, an OB-GYN with the Methodist Physicians Clinic Women’s Center Adolescent Gynecology clinic. “Then we like to kick the moms out of the room for a while and go through a health assessment on risk behaviors.”

Doctors ask about:

>> How they get along with family and friends

>> How they are doing in school

>> Their experiences with drugs, alcohol, marijuana and smoking

>> Whether they are texting while driving

>> Whether they are sexually active and practicing safe sex

“We also talk about domestic violence,” Westcott said. “We have been amazed at the honesty of these young girls and their answers. It’s exactly what we want to make sure we’re addressing their health care needs.”

The doctor said the conversation isn't shared with the patients' moms.

It’s all about gathering information and building trust. Teens have the choice on whether they want their mothers present for the pelvic exam and a breast check.

“We do the breast evaluation to make sure there’s normal development of the breast and make sure they’re the normal for that stage of life,” Westcott said. “And while self-breast exams aren’t really something you do at age 13, 14 or 15, it’s never too early to start teaching the basics.”

The pelvic exam is also modified to each individual girl’s comfort level.

“Some 13-year olds can handle it but others can be very squeamish about you even looking down there, so we modify and make them feel comfortable,” Westcott said. “If we are really struggling with exams sometimes we may resort to other options to make sure we get at least some sort of an assessment.”

From there, the conversations about personal needs and treatment options start with mother and daughter. Keeping the lines of trust and communication open is the goal  as is forming a positive first step in a life-long focus on good health.

“We really want them to communicate with mom or whoever is the helper person in their life so they share any concerns or problems,” said Westcott. “While they still need an adult to get through and navigate the health care system, this is just one piece to help them take care of their female side and make sure they understand the importance of good gynecological health.”

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