For a parent dealing with a depressed child, and for the growing teenager, the road to recovery can be both confusing and emotionally draining. Both parent and child are experiencing a huge shift in their relationship and understanding of each other.
Not only do parents need to be the emotional rock for their children, but also for themselves and other family members who may be affected by the changing storms in the home. I wish to present not only a few ways to deal with the depression and a loved one, but also a few very important tools to prevent or help depression in children earlier on.
What can cause depression for teenagers?
There is no one thing that causes depression but a lot of similarities come up in teens that suffer from depression. One factor is teenagers going through the difficult teen years with the feeling that they are alone, and don’t have a trustworthy adult to turn to. Not only are teenagers feeling pressured by school and peers, but the adults in their life put pressure on them to do well and succeed, with the idea that failure means that they may fail in their future life as well.
A lot of teens feel that they are struggling alone because they feel unable to confide in their parents due to fear of judgement or reprimanding. Another big factor that is seen in teenage depression is a strong feeling of a lack of control over their life. This can happen very easily as parents forget to make the transition from the child who needs guidance and protection, to the young adult who needs guidance, but can be trusted to make his/her own life choices.
Especially when religion or strict educational expectations are involved, the teenager is left feeling completely powerless and unable to deal with self-worth and responsibility in a healthy way. Using the line “because I’m the parent, and what I say goes”, teaches a child that listening to authority is more important than learning how to make their own life choices, and leaves them feeling trapped in situations that are not the best for them.
When parents are willing to talk to children in a way that includes them in decision-making and conflict resolution, they are letting the child feel involved and in control of their life. Talking and working with them to find creative solutions instead of telling them what to do is always the better approach.
For example: “Let’s talk about chores”, instead of, “I’ve drawn up a chores list for you.” This also gives them the skills to make good and healthy decisions later on as a teenager, and even later as an adult. This also lets the parent and child mould their environment in the healthiest and most suitable way for each child’s unique personality.
A child who does not have strengths in one subject should know that this does not relate on his/her self-worth, and that the things that they are will be recognized and given a chance to flourish. A creative child should be involved in creative outlets, an energetic child in sports, a gentle child in gardening, etc. If each child’s self-worth is measured by the child next to them, or the school’s curriculum, the child is not given the chance to find their own gifts.
What should I do if my child is already suffering from depression?
There are three basic rules: Support, Listen, and Validate
Support: A teenager (especially when an open relationship was not established early on) may shut parents out in a time of depression or struggle. When this happens, it’s important to be gentle yet persistent. Don’t overwhelm them with your fears, anxieties, and sadness on the situation. In this time, you need to be their rock and safety against the storm. Show them that you are there for them whenever they are ready to come out and lean on you.
Listen: To really listen is a practice that always needs more practice. Really listen to your child. Sometimes it may seem easier, or less scary to approach a teenager with the intention of giving advice or relating to them, but what they need is to be listened to without any lectures or opinions.
Don’t leave this job up to the therapist; a good talk between parent and child can be worth more than ten therapy sessions. Once again, if your teenager feels unable to speak openly and honestly just yet, give them time and space and gentle reminders that you are there when they want to talk.
Validate: Once your teenager feels ready to open up, you must remember not to lecture (or even share your emotions on the subject.) Validate the feelings they are experiencing. This means not giving them your opinions or antidotes just yet, and don’t rationalize their emotions or negate them in any way. Even “it will get better,” or “it’s just a phase that will pass,” can be extremely invalidating to a teenagers struggle. Try “we’re here for you,” or “you’re very strong.”
What to do for you and your family when your teenager is suffering from depression:
Avoid the blame game
Do not blame yourself or your spouse for the way things have happened. This will only add more negative feelings to the mix and will make you feel unable to deal with the situation at hand. If you feel that you could have done better as a parent, start now instead of beating yourself up over it. We are all human and cannot blame ourselves when things don’t go as planned. Forgive and set intentions for the future as you would like to see it.
Take care of yourself and the other family members
Make sure to take time to treat yourself. Treat yourself to a massage, a movie, or a night out with friends. Negative energy can be contagious, so break the chain with you. By treating yourself well you are keeping yourself above the negative energies, where you are better able to deal with them and be a source of help for your family. Also, it’s important to make sure that the other children are not being overshadowed by the present difficulties.
Other children in the family can sense when something is wrong, and most likely, trying to keep it a secret will lead children’s imaginations to something even worse. Let your children know what is going on around them. Respecting boundaries is important as well, but talking to the other children does not require all the details, just enough so as not to leave them in the dark guessing. This will also show the teenager that it is not a taboo subject, and that it’s okay to talk about it.
Reach out for support
At a time like this it can be very difficult for a parent to deal with the many emotions that come up. Take the time to talk to someone, whether it be a good friend, spouse, family member, or counselor. Know that it is not a taboo subject, and that you will not be blamed or judged for trying to help yourself and your family.