How Naperville group helping teens cope with stress

In the results of a survey taken last year, nearly 4,700 junior high and high school students in the Naperville area told adults their top three sources of stress are school, competition and their peers.

Now some of the adults involved with the nonprofit group that commissioned the State of the Kids survey are responding with new programs launching this week to teach better mechanisms for coping with those stressors.

In school this week, 25,000 students in Naperville Unit District 203 and Indian Prairie Unit District 204 will see a short video that summarizes the results of the survey and directs them to ways to get help, said Kamala Martinez, executive director of KidsMatter, the organization that commissioned and is leading the response to the survey.

KidsMatter also is launching four parent/child forums, seven more educational videos, a resilient youth curriculum and a campaign to promote the Crisis Text Line, which anyone in need can access by sending "REACH" to 741741.

Together, Martinez said these factors address school as a source of stress by adding mechanisms to address it.

"We're trying to alleviate the stress and anxiety before it becomes a problem," Martinez said, "and we're trying to give them the tools and skills to deal with stress and know how to cope."

In the video students will see this week, they'll learn that most of their peers - 84 percent of last year's 10th graders and 98 percent of last year's seventh graders - don't turn to alcohol to alleviate stress. In some of the other educational videos, they will learn about the dangers of using prescription drugs to ease pain, the importance of communication and how to find lifelines to mental health.

A series of four forums planned throughout the year are intended for a parent-child audience, Martinez said. The free, public forums start in November at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church at 1310 Shepherd Drive in Naperville and are set to follow this schedule:

• Mental Health: Being Proactive on Nov. 18.

• Gender and Sexuality on Dec. 2.

• Stress Management on Feb. 24.

• Handling Family Conflict Well on April 14.

Additional locations such as libraries or schools may be added, but Martinez said all are welcome to the sessions at the church.

Even as KidsMatter unrolls videos, forums and the Resilient Youth curriculum, developed by Harvard Medical School and the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, Martinez said leaders are working on more ways to help kids cope with the pressures they feel from their remaining top stressors.

"It's a work in progress to address the peers and the competition," Martinez said. "Because competition is not going to go away, and the peer pressure is involved on so many levels."

All of these efforts are a continuation of the purpose of the State of the Kids survey, written by Patricia Schacht, associate professor of psychology at North Central College in Naperville. Martinez said the aim is to find out what causes youths the most stress, learn how they cope and find ways the community can help prevent stress or improve methods of dealing with it.

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