Adolescent well child exams: Catching health-damaging behaviors early

Adolescence is a time of major transformation. In addition to uncomfortable changes to their physical bodies, adolescents experience cognitive, emotional and social shifts that can trigger unhealthy or even dangerous behaviors. Early intervention to identify risky behaviors is important and can greatly impact the long-term health and well-being of adolescents – long after they transition to adulthood.

Up to 75 percent of all adolescents engage in at least one risky behavior, such as drinking alcohol, smoking, taking drugs, engaging in unprotected sex or poor eating habits. However, early intervention may prevent these risky behaviors before they begin, or at least reduce their impact.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends an annual well-child exam every year for all adolescents up to age 21 to help recognize risky behaviors. According to studies, adolescents are more likely to talk about their behaviors in private to a health provider, which could mean intervention and possibly even prevention.

During a well-child exam, providers focus on the following:

  • Physical growth and development: Physical and oral health, body image, healthy eating and physical activity.
  • Vaccination screening: Tdap booster, meningococcal and the HPV series, which can help prevent certain cancers from developing later in life.  
  • Social and academic competence: Connectedness to family, peers and community; interpersonal relationships and school performance.
  • Emotional well-being: Coping, mood regulation, mental health (depression) and sexuality.
  • Risk reduction: Tobacco, alcohol or other drugs; pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
  • Violence and injury prevention: Safety belt and helmet use; substance abuse and riding in a vehicle; guns, violent behavior and bullying.
Ask your provider about well-child exams. If you don’t have a primary care provider, please contact customer service at 503-574-7500 or 800-878-4445 (TTY:711).