The Importance of Behavioral Health Screenings

Early and regular health screening is necessary to stay healthy at any age, but it’s especially important in children and adolescents who are growing rapidly and expected to achieve milestones with age.

August 16, 2023  

Stay healthy. Get screened.

When problems are caught early, for the most part they are easier to address and can prevent problems from getting bigger. Health screenings are all part of routine preventive care. These include many types of screenings, such as developmental, vision, hearing, dental, behavioral health and others. These screenings can jumpstart early treatment if necessary. Providers have a schedule they follow and know when each type of screening should be done.

What to expect during your office visit

Specifically for behavioral health screening, you can expect that when you bring your child or adolescent for an office visit, you will be asked to fill out a survey about your child’s:

  • Sleep
  • Energy
  • Appetite
  • School performance
  • Ability to make friends
  • Mood
  • Behavior

Adolescents may be asked to complete a similar survey about themselves. This is all part of routine behavioral health screening.

Providers will use a survey that is appropriate for your child’s age. The survey will come from a list of approved, standardized behavioral health screening tools. These tools can be helpful in highlighting areas you may be concerned about. They can make it easier to talk to your provider about your concerns and what you could do.

Providers may discuss developmental expectations, and give reassurance and effective parenting techniques that may help address your concerns.

During time with your adolescent, your provider may discuss:

  • Avoiding the use of alcohol, drugs, tobacco and other substances that can lead to abuse
  • Violence
  • Bullying
  • Depression

If there is a need for further assessment in the area of behavioral health, your provider can offer the necessary behavioral health services or help refer you to a behavioral health specialist in your network.

Regular screening, including behavioral health screening, is important at all ages but especially in growing children and adolescents learning coping strategies for new developmental challenges. If your provider does not offer behavioral health screening, don’t hesitate to ask about it. Share any concerns you have about your child’s development, including problems with mood and behavior.

Your provider is eager to help and find ways to keep your child on track and healthy for life.

Helping your adolescent prepare for their PCP Visit

  • Help your adolescent be a partner in their health. Give your youth a “heads up” about physical and emotional changes that may be occurring during adolescence. Remind them their PCP will discuss both physical and emotional development and challenges.

11 Through 14 Year Visits (Early Adolescence)

  • Ask your youth to write down questions about their emotional/physical health and development, like questions about puberty, sexual orientation, and mood, that they may want to discuss
  • Talk to your teen about their behaviors, moods, mental health, or substance use.
  • Discuss how the transition from elementary to middle school is going or has gone socially, academically, and in terms of special education supports and other services.
  • If your adolescent is reluctant to talk about challenges, ask your health care provider to help you begin the discussion or to take a role in handling these topics with your child.
  • Encourage your child to participate in these transition discussions. This is a perfect time for them to feel independent as they begin to advocate for themselves.
  • This visit may include screening tests for depression, cholesterol, HIV, oral health, tobacco/alcohol/drugs, and STIs.

15 Through 17 Year Visits (Middle Adolescence)

  • Encourage your teen to write down health questions, about emotional well-being, like how they handle stress, transitions with friends, changes at school, how they feel about their changing body and sexuality.
  • Encourage them to talk about family, friends, and community relationships. Ask about what causes them stress, if they experience peer pressure, bullying, or violence, if they feel anxious or sad.
  • Have conversations about safety and risk reduction. This could include discussing protection could include protection against pregnancy and STIs; tobacco, e-cigarette, drug, or alcohol use; not sharing, misusing, or using someone else’s prescription medications. 

18 Through 21 Year Visits (Late Adolescence)

  • Remind your young adult to write down any questions about coping with stress, and other social and emotional challenges. They may want to share updates, like career plans or moving away from home.
  • Ask your health care provider to help your young adult find an adult healthcare provider, transitions in health care take time and relationship-building.
  • If you have a late adolescent with special healthcare needs, you may want to discuss how to set up a health care proxy with the PCP. This will allow you to continue to help manage and support your adult child’s health care needs, if needed.
  • As your adolescent moves into adulthood, they will continue to need your guidance throughout these important years. Whether your young adult goes on to college, career, or community-based activities, it is important for them to know that you are still in their corner. Offer encouragement for their progress and provide advice as needed. When your young adult comes to you with a problem, help them talk through it and make a decision that matches their beliefs and values.

For more information refer to the American Association of Pediatricians Bright Futures Family Pocket guide. English  |  Spanish

Center for Parent Information and Resources: For resources including information about Parent Training and Information Centers and Community Parent Resource Centers in the United States and US territories, visit