Your Kids & Stress: The Warning Signs

by Traci F. Gardner, MD 

A parent called me one evening to ask if she should take her 14-year-old son to the emergency room because he’d gotten a sudden, intense headache, something he’d never experienced. “What was he doing prior to the headache?” I asked.

“A research paper,” she said. “He’s been stressing about it all week!”

Stress. Kids experience it, too. Teens especially. Some stress is normal; we all must endure a bit of it in order to grow. Yet any benefits diminish when it begins to overwhelm a teen’s ability to handle such real-life tasks as, say, research papers.

The end of another school year can create new teen stresses: finals, SATs, proms, summer jobs and graduations. Some kids may develop headaches, sleeplessness, fatigue, abdominal pain, Gastric Reflux, Gastritis, or other effects.

Here’s what parents should do:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask your child if something is bothering them. If your child isn’t comfortable talking to you about it, encourage them to talk to another adult, one you both trust.
  • Watch for any change in your child’s behavior. If they develop any of the symptoms described above, or demonstrate any unexplained changes in their behavior, it may be a sign of unknown stressors in their environment–at home, school or with neighborhood or friends.

Dr. Traci Gardner, a pediatrician, is the Chief Medical Officer for the Valhalla School District in Valhalla, NY. Email:


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