Depressed Teens: How To Help Them Cope

Dear Susan,

My daughter seems quite depressed. She takes it out in ways like being lazy, not wanting to do anything... sits in her room... is irritable a lot of the time. I've taken her Facebook away. Now I've got parental controls on her texting. That's ALL she was doing before. I think she's going through withdrawal now. Should I be concerned?

Cheerleader Mom

Dear Cheerleader Mom,

Adolescence isn't easy. Hormones influence our kids' moods, putting them on a roller coaster of highs and lows. Peer influence is enormous, with teens feeling a constant pressure to belong and fit in. School becomes more challenging. Parents often come across as controlling and oppressive. And all the while, your teen is trying to figure out who she is, what she believes in, and where she's headed as adult life starts looming on the horizon.

Some kids take great comfort in the distraction of social media -- Facebook, texting, and so on. In a sense, these things become a "drug," offering relief from the pressures of life, and a feeling of connection with friends ("friends") that lessens that adolescent angst.

Now that your daughter doesn't have the digital outlet, it's hard to say whether she is simply acting like a normal adolescent who's unmotivated and cranky -- especially because you've limited her access to her online world -- or whether her involvement in those activities was hiding legitimate depression.

Help your daughter express her frustration and sadness. Say, "I get the feeling you've been having a hard time lately. I care about you and promise to listen without telling you what you should do. What's going on, honey?" Don't come at her with criticisms and complaints; she'll shut you out. And be careful not to minimize her problems, or act as though they're trivial. To her, they aren't. If at all possible, help your daughter find her tears in the safety of your loving presence. Giving her the chance to feel the sadness beneath her tough exterior will help lighten her load.

Pay attention to her behavior, including excessive sleeping, disconnecting from friends or activities she once enjoyed, substance or alcohol use, recklessness, or saying things like, "I want to die" or "I wish I'd never been born." Get professional help immediately if your youngster's depression spirals or she starts talking about having suicidal thoughts.

Childhood and teen depression is serious, and needs to be addressed with care. While it's perfectly normal for teens to pull away from parents as they individuate or to be sad and irritable at times, if a youngster shows signs of ongoing depression, parents need to pay attention. Don't put your head in the sand; if your instincts tell you that your child's in trouble emotionally, take action.

Yours in parenting support,

Parent Coach, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.