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Can doctors tell your parents?

As a teenager, you may sometimes find yourself in situations where you need medical care but don’t want your parents to know about it. This can happen if you are seeking birth control, testing or treatment for a sexually transmitted infection (STI), considering an abortion, or struggling with mental health issues like depression or eating disorders. You may worry that involving your parents could lead to anger, disappointment or loss of trust. Fortunately, there are legal protections in place to allow teens to access certain types of confidential medical care without parent consent. However, the laws vary by state and situation. Understanding your rights can help guide your decisions.

When can doctors share information with your parents?

In most cases, doctors are allowed to share general medical information about teens with parents or legal guardians. They do not need a teen’s permission to do so. Examples include:

  • Discussing medical history, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment plan
  • Providing appointment reminders and test results
  • Sending medical bills and insurance paperwork home

However, when it comes to particularly sensitive services, doctors often cannot disclose details without the patient’s consent. Many states explicitly protect a minor’s confidentiality for services like:

Sexual and reproductive health

  • Birth control prescriptions
  • Pregnancy testing
  • STI testing and treatment
  • Abortion

Mental health treatment

  • Therapy and counseling
  • Medication for depression, anxiety, eating disorders
  • Substance abuse treatment

Physical or sexual abuse

If you disclose abuse to a doctor, they typically cannot tell your parents without permission. They may be legally required to report the situation to authorities.

When can doctors share details with parents?

There are certain situations where doctors can legally share confidential details about your sensitive health issues with your parents without consent:

  • If there is a serious threat to your life: For example, if you are suicidal or have a life-threatening eating disorder that severely impairs your daily functioning.
  • If your parents ask directly about abuse: If your parents inquire if you are being physically or sexually abused, the doctor may be allowed to confirm it.
  • If you are using a parent’s insurance: Details about services may appear on insurance statements and paperwork sent home.
  • If you are very young: Some states allow disclosure to parents of patients under 12-14 years old.

Talking to your doctor about confidentiality

The best thing you can do is directly ask your doctor about their confidentiality policies regarding the services you need before sharing any personal details. You can say something like “If I discuss my situation regarding [birth control, depression, etc], would you have to tell my parents?” This allows the doctor to explain the laws in your state and their practices.

In many cases, doctors can keep your information private as long as you:

  • Explicitly ask for confidentiality
  • Confirm you understand their policies
  • Provide consent to receive treatment

It’s also important to clarify upfront if any details would appear on medical bills, insurance paperwork or other documents that your parents could access. Your doctor can advise you on your options in those cases, such as paying out-of-pocket or using free clinics for services you want to keep private.

Seeking care confidentially

If you want to access sensitive medical services with the highest level of privacy protection, here are some options to consider:

Title X family planning clinics

These clinics receive federal Title X funding to provide free or low-cost reproductive health services to teens without requiring parent consent. Services include:

  • Birth control consultations and prescriptions
  • STI testing and treatment
  • Pregnancy testing and counseling

Use the Title X Clinic Finder to locate one near you.

Health clinic at school

Many high schools offer health clinics that allow students to access services like STI testing, pregnancy tests, condoms and birth control confidentially during school hours without leaving campus.

Health department clinics

Every state has low-cost or free STI/HIV testing clinics, family planning clinics and other health services at county health departments. There is often no age requirement and services are confidential.

Online doctor consultation services

Some doctor consultation apps and websites like Planned Parenthood Direct, Lemonaid and Nurx allow teens to speak to a doctor, get tested for STIs or get birth control prescribed and delivered in discreet packaging without parent involvement.

Free clinics

Look for free or income-based clinics in your area that provide confidential services. These are often run by health departments, Planned Parenthood, community health centers and youth organizations.

Talking to your parents about confidentiality

Having an open, judgement-free conversation with your parents about your medical privacy can help build trust and understanding. You can say:

  • “It’s important to me to be able to talk privately to a doctor about health issues that come up. I want you to know that if I ever needed help, I would come to you.”
  • “If you’re ever wondering about my medical care, please just ask me directly instead of contacting my doctor behind my back. I’ll be honest with you if it’s not something I’m comfortable sharing.”

Reassure your parents that mature, responsible teens are legally allowed to handle certain sensitive health issues confidentially. If they remain resistant, try to find compromise by:

  • Agreeing to share general information about your overall health.
  • Involving a trusted adult like an aunt, school counselor or older sibling if you need guidance.
  • Staying on your parents’ health insurance to save money on care.

When to reconsider your options

For some teens, keeping medical care private from parents is necessary for safety and wellbeing. But in other cases, you may decide involving a parent would be helpful, especially if:

  • The situation involves an emergency or high level of risk to your health.
  • You need help accessing or paying for treatment.
  • You want moral support during the situation.
  • Repairing trust with your parent is important to you.

Think through your specific circumstances, risks and values to decide what’s best. Staying safe should be the top priority.


Doctors have to abide by laws protecting confidentiality for teens seeking sensitive health services. In many cases, they cannot inform your parents without your permission. However, policies vary in different situations. If confidentiality is crucial for you, have an explicit discussion with your provider about their practices, use the most private care options available and talk to your parents about respecting your medical privacy when feasible. Knowing your rights and taking proactive steps can help you get the health care you need with the level of privacy that feels right for your family.