Fifteen-year-old Terri is a freshman in high school. Since starting high school, she has become moody, withdrawn, and less interested in school work.
“I know going to high school is a big adjustment,” her mother said, “but I worry about her because she’s just not acting like the Terri we used to know.”
Phil, a 16-year-old, has been experimenting with drugs and his parents have detected alcohol on his breath at least once when he came home after being out with friends. At first his parents thought that he was just doing what all teenagers eventually do – experimenting with drugs and alcohol. But lately they’re not sure.
“He acts different that he did before,” his father reports. “He’s letting his school work go, he spends a lot of time in his room listening to music, and he often doesn’t contact his old friends. He just seems more listless and lazy.”
Michelle, on the other hand, has become more aggressive. At 13, she is more argumentative, has had two fights recently with other girls at school, and even swore at a teacher. This resulted in a suspension – something that never happened to her before.
While it might be easy to blame the influence of peers, new friends, or the use of drugs or alcohol, these three adolescents are all depressed. Often parents don’t recognize depression in teenagers because adolescents don’t always show the classic signs of depression we’ve come to recognize in adults: withdrawal, sadness and crying, feeling hopeless about the future, and not taking care of themselves physically.
Depression is different with children and teens. They may still carry on with friends, may become more argumentative or aggressive, may get into more trouble, or they may start drinking or using drugs.
While trying to deal with all of the pressures of being a teenager, young people between ages 10 and 18 will frequently feel sad, down, or distressed. However, up to 24 percent will have at least one episode of depression that needs treatment during those vulnerable years.
And without counseling or psychotherapy, they are more likely than other teens to abuse drugs and alcohol, fall behind at school, and have behavior problems. Some, of course, are even suicidal.
But what can you as a parent do to prevent – or at least reduce – the chances that your child will become a depressed adolescent?
Researchers have been exploring how parents can prevent teens from getting depressed. Here are some of their suggestions:
● Educate your child about depression. Children and teens should be given information about depression so they understand the symptoms and know what to do when they feel sad or blue.
● Help them learn strategies to enable them to cope with difficult situations. Every child is going to be faced with difficult situations, problems, and conflicts. Instead of shielding them from problems or solving the problems for them, teach them how they can solve problems and deal appropriately with conflicts with others.
● Keep them involved in positive activities. One of the best ways of teaching your children to sidestep serious depression is to strongly encourage them to be involved in positive activities and organizations. Not only should they be involved with school work and extracurricular activities, but they should be active with a religious institution, community organizations, charities, and recreational programs.
● Promote optimism. Research shows that optimists do better academically and socially. Helping your child look on the bright side is a significant life skill to develop. When children think they can succeed, they are more likely to try.
● Teach them how to manage their stresses. Being overwhelmed by stress often leads to depression. With all the things going on in a teen’s life, it might be easy at times to feel completely overwhelmed. Show them how to handle their stresses and what to do to relax when the tension and anxiety builds up.