None of your business

by Russ Roberts on May 20, 2008

in Family, Health, Nanny State

My wife recently took our 13 year-old son to the doctor for his annual checkup. He’s doing fine. At the end of the visit, the doctor asked my son if he wanted my wife to leave so he could talk freely to the doctor about anything he wished. My son said no. If I’d been there I would have asked the doctor why he thought it was appropriate for him to even ask to talk to my son without me there. I told the story to a friend who said he’d had the same experience.

I’m curious to know if anyone else has had this happen. What’s the source of it? Is the AMA suggesting it? I’m sure it’s justified with some argument about public health.

If it ever happens when I’m in the room, I’m going to ask the doctor when I can talk privately to his son. I want to make sure that his son understands how markets work. In the name of public economic health, of course.

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Chris Meisenzahl May 20, 2008 at 10:39 am

That irks me too. A while back our pediatrician asked if we had any guns in our home. I told him it was none of his business. I'm confident that they think I'm a caveman. ;-)

For the record, I'm not into guns.

John May 20, 2008 at 10:53 am

I am fairly certain the doctor is not trying to impinge on your parental perogatives. I am under the impression that this is done is because sometimes children are uncomfortable bringing up certain things (often puberty related) in front of parents.

eric mcfadden May 20, 2008 at 10:54 am

I am an army medical dude with some experience in this area. Patients lie. No doc I never use drugs, always exercise, am not pregnant, never have stuff leaking out of places they dont want mom to know about. What you realize very quickly as a medical provider is that patients lie a lot more when other people are around. I seperate parents from children as fast as possible to get the patient the best outcome.
It's hard, be honest and find a doc you trust.

Matt May 20, 2008 at 10:58 am

I guess the test might be whether you think your son can have private attorney talks.

Fabio Franco May 20, 2008 at 11:07 am

In Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism” he warns that if Hillary were elected she would implement what she proposed in “It takes a village”: put up television screens wherever people gather and show government videos that teach mothers how to breast feed and men how to be good fathers. Here’s from a podcast:

“You're standing on line at the DMV. And there's this Jumbotron with an instructional video running on permanent — 24 hours a day seven days a week telling you how to raise your kids.”

Maybe she’ll be able to implement this as vice-president?

jb May 20, 2008 at 11:22 am

In all fairness, at age 13, he might have some questions about sex, masturbation, friends using drugs, and other such things, that he would not at all feel comfortable asking in front of his mom.

Now, if I were the doctor, I would have made sure to tell the mom ahead of time about the scope and purpose of the inquiry. As it is, it does seem inappropriate to "just ask".

Jeff May 20, 2008 at 11:27 am

They may be planning to ask your child whether you have guns in the house, how much alcohol you drink, and more:

Andrew May 20, 2008 at 12:08 pm

I love your blog. But this is really, really dumb. If you can't figure out why this is important, you need to learn some basic psychology, medicine, sociology, or perhaps just common sense. Perhaps start by reading the comments already left by other readers. Stick to economics. Please.

Ken May 20, 2008 at 12:42 pm


Your comment shows what an idiot you are.

Parents are far more concerned with their children's well being than anyone else, even a loving caring doctor.

Economists study interactions between people, including doctor/patient interactions. Reading even the basics of economics would tell you this. I would say stick to what you know best, but I think being an idiot is what you do best. So all I'll say is: better yourself and think before leaving such a nasty, idiotic comment.

Russ Roberts May 20, 2008 at 12:59 pm

I am closing the comments to this post. I will be writing a new post on the same topic where we can share ideas. But given the vehemence of the response, I think it might be helpful for me to clarify some issues before we continue.

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