Dear Your Teen:
My teenager does not stray far from a bathroom. She’s struggling with Irritable Bowel Syndrom (IBS) and as a result, she is too nervous to participate in any activity that would take her away from a toilet. I hate that she misses out on so many social opportunities. What should I do?
EXPERT | Dr. Deborah Gilboa
That is a genuine struggle. For those who aren’t familiar, IBS is a disorder of the gastrointestinal system. It causes some combination of abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea and/or constipation. The causes are not clear, the treatment varies by person, and the triggers can be hard to identify.
Teenagers who suffer from IBS are often frustrated by feeling different and “abnormal” compared to their friends. Added to that, children and teens feel embarrassed about running to the bathroom, and the other outward signs of their distress. Most believe that everyone is talking about it.
Her concerns are legitimate, but there are things your daughter can do.
4 Ways to Cope with IBS In Teens:
1. Know the triggers.
Most people who have IBS do not have symptoms all the time. Understanding what foods and drinks are likely to cause her discomfort will help her predict how she’ll feel on a given day. Also this will help her doctor as the two of them work to control her disease.
2. Confide in a few trusted friends.
Your daughter may discover that most teenagers her age have something (eczema, learning disability, allergies) that makes them feel different and abnormal. Further, these friends can help her know if her behavior looks odd to others or if she is just feeling self-conscious.
3. Find a support group of teens.
58 million Americans live with IBS. There are great resources online, and she can talk to other girls her age about the strategies they use to be more social.
4. Find ways to support your daughter.
As her parent, you have another important job. Encourage her to figure out how social she wants to be and then find solutions to live that life. She may have IBS for a long time, she should not wait for it to disappear before she lives the life she imagines. Resilience is the ability to stand up in the face of obstacles. Help your teenager be resilient in the face of her IBS, and she will be more likely to face down other challenges as they come her way.