Should Doctors Keep Minors' Info Confidential?

Filed under: Opinions

Writing in a diary

This is a tough one. I remember being a kid on the brink of being a teenager--we didn't have the word "tween" back then--sitting in my pediatrician's office waiting to get examined or get a shot or whatever. That doctor was not someone I felt like spilling the beans to, had I any beans to spill, but for a lot of kids their family doctor is someone they can, and do, turn to in times of need. Doctors are adults but they are not your parents, and they can be trusted with confidential information you share with them based on the oath they took to keep your secrets private. Whether or not a doctor keeps a minor's information confidential private is one thing, but whether or not the doctor SHOULD share such information with the parents is all together another. And, it's a murky one at best.

As the doctors interviewed in this article in the New York Times point out, it's rarely a black and white situation when a kid confides something to a doctor. Questions about issues with drinking, drugs and sex come up quite often, and the doctors are torn over losing the child's trust, which can be invaluable in helping the child resolve the problem since the doctor knows the kid won't be telling his/her parents versus keeping the information confidential when the doc knows the parents would want that information.

As a parent, I would want to know everything that's going on in my kid's life. Does he have friends? Does she have trouble with her schoolwork? Does he get beat up by bullies? Does she drink at parties? I know I'll never be privy to this kind of information, and as a result will not necessarily be the one to help my child get through whatever problems he or she faces. That said, it seems like a doctor is one of the adult figures who might be able to help my child, whether or not I get to find out about it. Still, I can see why parents would be angry with a doctor for keeping the fact that a child has a drug problem, for example, quiet. I think in most cases the doctor would cave and inform the parents, but you never know. It's a tough call the doctor has to make, on a case by case basis. Usually the doctor is able to come up with a compromise, a way to telegraph to the parents that something is going on with their kid and that they need to watch the child more closely or be more involved in the kid's life.

Do you want your child's pediatrician to tell you everything or would you rather there be some things between the two of them so long as the issues get sorted out? My kids are both under two years old so I kind of do know everything that goes on with them, but what about those of you with tweens and teens?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.