Parenting is hard, and children don’t come with manuals. There are lots of moments where parents make mistakes while learning the job of parenting. Then, when you realize that your teen is depressed, it’s likely that you’ll make a few more of those parental mistakes again, despite your best intentions to help them.
Although experts say that teen depression is the most common mental illness among teens today, many parents are caught unawares. You might want to help your teen overcome the issues they’re struggling with, but some things you unwittingly do can end up hurting more than healing.
As you go about looking for ways to help your teen cope with depression, it’s important to remember that your presence, unconditional love, and support will do much more for them than giving advice or solutions.
Here are 7 of the most common mistakes you should avoid when dealing with your teen’s depression:
1. Assuming depression is just a case of teen angst.
The most common mistake most parents make is putting down their teen’s behavior to normal teen angst or moodiness. While it’s true that the changes and upheavals of adolescence often result in mood swings, there is a difference between teen angst and teen depression. It’s better to err on the side of caution and seek professional help if you’re unsure about what’s causing changes in your teen’s behavior.
2. Downplaying the issue.
Parents are also guilty of assuming their teen’s depression isn’t that much of a big deal. Saying things like, “It’s all in your head,” or “It’s not that serious,” only makes matters worse as your teen will take it as evidence that you don’t care about them. This downplaying, in turn, can cause them to withdraw, shut down and even become more depressed.
3. Being dismissive of how your teen feels.
Statements like “Life isn’t fair” or “Everyone has bad days” make you come across as dismissive and uncaring. Depressed teens already know that life isn’t fair, so there’s no need to point it out anyway.
Such statements also imply that depression is something that they can get over quickly and easily which couldn’t be further from the truth. If it were that easy, then depression wouldn’t be such an issue.
4. Waiting for your teen to open up.
Another common mistake parents make is waiting for their depressed teens to approach them. Some parents mistakenly assume that if their teens needed help, they’d reach out to them. The truth is that most depressed teens have no idea how to open up to anyone about what they’re going through.
To make matters worse, the illness often makes them think that no one cares or would believe them anyway. If you notice troubling signs of depression in your teen, it’s better to initiate the conversation about it yourself rather than wait for them to do it.
5. Nagging your teen.
On the opposite side of overly passive parents are those who end up nagging their kids to open up about their problems. While bringing up the subject with your teen is okay, don’t insist if they’re unwilling to talk about it.
Teens suffering from depression have a lot to deal with already and piling more pressure on them could push them over the edge. Instead, honor their right to feel their emotions — regardless of what they are — and be supportive and affirming. Let let them know you’re available to talk whenever they are ready.
6. Making it about yourself.
No one knows how to push their parent’s buttons better than teens. However, depressed teens aren’t trying to provoke or get a reaction from you. They’re not sulking or looking for attention, and they are definitely not out to put a damper on your mood. Implying any of these only shifts attention from your teen to you.
Furthermore, blaming a depressed teen for dragging you down or making you sad burdens them with additional baggage of guilt and shame for making you feel that way. Showing them love and support instead will do more to get them back on their feet.
7. Telling them to cheer up or shake it off.
Depressed people, not just teens, are used to being told to “cheer up”, “shake it off” or to “look on the bright side”. There are lots of things you can say to your depressed teen to help ease and lift their spirit, but these statements don’t make the cut. Your teen would no doubt love to see the positive side of life. However, depression is an insidious illness that robs people of joy and happiness. It’s not that they’re deliberately being sad; it’s just that they lack the capacity to focus on the joys and positives at the moment.
As the parent of a depressed teen, it’s best to accept that they are suffering from a mental illness. They didn’t get there overnight and won’t get out overnight either. It will take lots of time, patience and love on your part to encourage them to seek help and eventually get better.
The Reality of Teen Depression – Infographic. Retrieved from https://www.liahonaacademy.com/the-reality-of-teen-depression-infographic.html
Serani, D. (2014). Is It Teen Angst or Depression? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/two-takes-depression/201410/is-it-teen-angst-or-depression
Donvito, T. (n.d). 12 Ways to Help Someone with Depression, According to Psychologists. Reader’s Digest. Retrieved from https://www.rd.com/health/conditions/help-someone-with-depression/2/