Does it seem as though your teen always feels sick? Do you find yourself ignoring her consistent complaints, rationalizing that she's "faking" and wants to take a day off from school?
According to Allen McKinnon, a pediatrician and family counselor in northern Wisconsin, the unique stresses of adolescence are known to cause very real physical symptoms. "Teens have a tough enough time dealing with the changes in their own bodies. Higher expectations at school and peer pressure add to the demands they're already feeling," says McKinnon. "When your teenager is sick, it's often his body's way of taking a 'time-out' from the pressure of daily life. This is especially evident if your child is quiet by nature. Keeping his feelings inside causes him to feel physically sick."
While it may seem like your teen is becoming a hypochondriac, consider the following:
- Your adolescent's body is maturing and developing. An increased body awareness can cause various aches and pains similar to the symptoms of a cold and the flu.
- Teens still lack the insight to understand fully what's going on inside them. Ask your teen what he is feeling, both physically and emotionally. What's going on at school or with friends? McKinnon says to reassure him that his symptoms are perfectly normal, and explain that emotional stresses often work their way out physically.
- Sometimes the pain is a cry for attention. According to McKinnon, teens on the brink of independence are sometimes fearful, and feeling sick is a safe way to ask for extra attention from Mom or Dad. Plan some one-on-one time with you teen when he's not sick.
- Don't forget the power of prayer. Tell your teen that prayer helps in times of stress and physical pain. Ask God to intervene and heal—acknowledge that we need his help to get better. Pray Philippians 4:6-7 with her: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Teens mostly complain about headaches, stomachaches, and diarrhea. Always consult your family doctor for chronic problems, but if symptoms are stress-related, they will occur before exams, dates, or special events. Here are some suggestions for stress relief:
- Show your support. Make sure your teen has someone to talk to about stressful situations. Often, adolescents would rather share their feelings with a close friend, teacher, or youth pastor than with their parents. This is normal.
- Encourage your teen to exercise. The physical activity releases natural hormones in the body specifically designed to combat anxiety.
- Help your teen relax. Plan a family weekend away, with the goal being relaxation. Find a place in the country or at the beach where you can walk and talk and bond.
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March/April 2002, Vol. 14, No. 21, Page 23