Out of three choices, which scenario is more stressful?
-A 5-year-old girl has been waiting all day for ice cream. She finally gets a double scoop of bubblegum ice cream on a sugar cone. She walks outside. The top of the ice cream slips off and falls to the ground.
-A 15-year-old boy has waited weeks to ask a girl he likes to the school dance. He finally musters up the courage and asks her. She looks him straight in the face and turns him down.
-A family planned a trip to Disney World months before summer. They talk about it all the time. A week before the trip, the father is laid off from his job.
One attendee answered that the layoff is most stressful. But the answer is they all are most stressful, simply because stress is relative.
Licensed therapist Doreen Zaborac, who practices in Orland Park, asked the question during a roundtable focusing on how parents can help their teenage children deal with stress. The discussion was held in August at the Bridge Teen Center, a non-profit organization that offers free programs for parents and teens on an array of topics.
"For that girl, her world is on the cement melting," Zaborac said.
Zaborac was joined by Dr. Robert Boll, who also practices in Orland Park, and Jeremy Klyn, director of admissions at Trinity Christian college, to offer different insights into how parents can break through barriers put up by teenagers to help with stressful situations.
The Bridge will hold a similar roundtable Thursday evening with mental health professionals that will delve into depression, eating disorders, sex and drug use.
Zaborac described the "Joshua Effect," where one simple yet uncomfortable situation, such as running the mile in gym, can build up to the point where a teen refuses to go to school for days at a time.
"Maybe this boy is out of shape and utterly terrified of making a fool of himself," she said. "That one stressor evolves into police officers dragging the kid to school because this root wasn't found earlier or handled the best way possible."
Zaborac suggested breaking the issue down into smaller pieces. In the case of running a mile, start walking around the block, build to jogging around one block, then two, then three and so on, she said.
But she acknowledged not every situation is that simple.
"One of the best ways to relieve stress is to just talk," Zaborac said. "Try it in the car while driving to places. You have a captive audience."
Dr. Boll said the main two physical symptoms that point to a teen experiencing stress are first abdominal pains and then headaches. He said he often has to "dig a bit behind the scenes" to find out what actually is causing symptoms in a teen, which can be difficult with a parent in the examining room.
"If a person has headaches intermittently all their life, it's less of a concern than someone who is just now experiencing debilitating, can't-go-to-school headaches," Boll said. "But I do start with a bias that new headaches in a teen are due to stress."
Boll described irritable bowel syndrome as a case where a person's colon appears to be normal, even in samples under a microscope, but it just doesn't work consistently well.
"By and large you can pick up a pattern: increased stress in their lives, increased symptoms," Boll said. "Even if you think it's no big deal, don't act like it's no big deal. That'll only fuel the fire."
The last part of the discussion focused on Klyn's advice for how to navigate the path from high school to college, including test preparation, finances and location. Klyn also emphasized making sure people giving recommendations for students really know them well, and to not shove students into too many honors' classes if it is beyond their means.
"If they don't do so well freshmen year, it doesn't mean their lives are over and they won't get into school," Klyn said. "Encourage them not to give up, because we appreciate a student who improved through their years."