Talking to Teenagers
About Depression and Anxiety
Who knew raising teens would be such an onerous undertaking? From the pressures of school and relationships, to dealing with societal expectations, adolescence can be a real rollercoaster ride for them.
And you know what's been getting more common these days? Depression and anxiety among teenagers! It's a real tough challenge because these mental health issues can really mess with their well-being and everyday life.
A communication gap seems to be the biggest hurdle for both parties in this regard. We need to get real about this and understand how important it is to talk openly and honestly with our teens about these issues.
However, that’s easier said than done. It is one conversation that every parent dreads. Where to start? How to approach it? And perhaps the most pressing question: How do you even know if your teenager is dealing with depression or anxiety?
In the next sections, we'll address these concerns and provide you with practical guidance on how to talk to your teenager about depression and anxiety.
The Prevalence of Anxiety and Depression in Teens
Teenagers are frequently viewed by parents as sullen, disrespectful, and disagreeable. And to bridge this gap, parents frequently tend to overstay their welcome when dealing with their teen kids – often seen as an invasion of privacy.
And as a consequence, teenagers often get more angsty by this type of behavior and start to rebel more often.
But it's not always their fault. Teenagers are still figuring out themselves and the miracle of life. They often feel alone with their struggles of identity, values, and interpersonal relationships.
As Jean Piaget, the world’s first child psychologist correctly identified, kids are continuously going through cognitive development. Current research suggests that a child’s brain is developing even after the age of 18.
This means that kids’ thoughts not only develop by absorbing knowledge, but they also develop through their environment.
So kids are the perfect example of being a byproduct of one’s environment. Since kids’ minds are like sponges during their early development, they absorb both good and bad stimuli from their surroundings.
When kids grow up in a household where parents aren’t around or don't show love, or a school where they don’t feel like they are heard, children can develop childhood trauma. This, combined with puberty issues, develops into full-blown depression and anxiety when they reach their teenage years.
According to 2021 research by WHO on the mental health of adolescents, The most common problems in this age group are anxiety disorders, which might include panic attacks or overly worrying.
Older adolescents experience these diseases more frequently than the younger lot. Anxiety disorders are thought to affect 3.6% of 10 to 14-year-olds and 4.6% of 15 to 19-year-olds.
Similarly, 2.8% of teenagers aged 15 to 19 and 1.1% of adolescents aged 10 to 14 experience depression. Rapid and unexpected mood fluctuations are among the symptoms that both depression and anxiety share.
School attendance and academic performance can be significantly impacted by anxiety and depressive disorders. Isolation and loneliness become worse if social retreat occurs. Suicide can also result from depression if it remains untreated.
Signs of Depression - How to Figure Out if Your Teen Is Depressed?
Figuring out if your teen has depression or anxiety is like squeezing water from a stone. As harsh as it may sound, you have your work cut out for you. Teens’ brains are still developing, (particularly the pre-frontal cortex undergoes massive change) and their bodies are going through a lot of hormonal changes due to puberty.
This strong brew of hormonal changes and brain development, causes teens to experience internal chaos. The changes in the pre-frontal cortex result in a general inability to make good decisions, and particularly to assess risk.
The pre-frontal cortex abnormalities lead to a general incapacity to make wise decisions, especially when it comes to risk assessment.
Since their pre-frontal cortex has been rewired, they actually have a hard time identifying other people's feelings, which makes them very egocentric. They are unlikely to be able to judge how their actions may affect other people.
The Prefrontal Cortex Is Responsible For…
Our prefrontal cortex is responsible for reasoning, problem-solving, comprehension, impulse control, creativity, and perseverance.
And because of hormonal changes, teenagers have a tendency to feel things more intensely, much like the drive to seek out more sensory input. Everything is more profound, and they are more inclined to become angry, upset, excited, or delighted resulting in frequent mood swings.
Since teens are already going through so much in terms of emotional (and physical) change, parents can have a hard time identifying what is the new normal. But with time you will be able to pick on visual cues that may point towards depression.
These are some of the signs that you should look for:
- Isolation for prolonged periods of time
- Problems with memory, concentration, decision-making, and thought
- Continuous feeling of doom and gloom
- Frequently having thoughts of suicide or death
- Bouts of sadness-related emotions, which may cause unexpected sobbing fits
- Rage or frustration, even toward trivial things
- Feeling empty and dejected
- Loss of interest in things that used to give pleasure
- Avoiding family members and friends at social events
- A low sense of self
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Fixation on previous mistakes, excessive self-blame, or excessive self-criticism
- Extreme reassurance-seeking and hypersensitive sensitivity to failure or rejection
- Seeking social media for validation
- Seeking social media, video games, movies, and TV shows for escapism
How to Talk to Teens About Their Depression?
Depression and anxiety are difficult for anybody, let alone teenagers who already feel the whole world is against them. So a methodical, caring, and non-judgmental approach is needed.
You need to take immediate action once you have noticed any of the previously mentioned signs. Even if you’re unsure and think it might be a bad idea, never pass by an opportunity to talk openly with your teenage kids.
After all, there was some concerning behavior you noticed that led you down this path, so act on your gut instinct and have a discussion with your kid. But don’t directly confront them as it may backfire, and badly!
Open the conversation casually as if talking to an old friend and you want to check up on them, and how their life has been. Next, you can be more direct and bring up what exact depression symptom or sign caused you to take notice.
Listen, be prepared, but most importantly be understanding. Refrain from passing judgment or jumping to conclusions, and don’t ask questions until your child has finished his discussion.
The hardest part is fortunately over. You have successfully gotten your child to open up to you and show their vulnerable side. All they need now is your undivided attention, comfort, and support. So reciprocate this trust by making it abundantly clear that you are there for them come hell or high water.
And never, under any circumstances, think of your child’s depression as merely a phase. Don’t try to insult them by thinking of their problems as temporary or that they are making a mountain out of a molehill.
You don’t know what they are going through or how intensely something affects them. You have to be more empathetic towards them and validate their feelings. Plus, teens are oversensitive during that period of their life, so even if their problem is blown out of proportion, try to fix it, instead of weighing its legitimacy.
And do remember whatever you might say can make them never open up to you again. So choose your words carefully and manage your expectations. Remember, there is no overnight cure for treating your child’s depression, so take small steps. Any progress is good progress.
The Dont’s of Talking to Teenagers About Depression
Don’t shoot the gun without knowing all the facts first
Don’t judge your teen’s situation
Don’t get into personal details too much as you might make your child feel awkward
Don’t try to insult them by thinking of their problems as temporary
Don’t laugh off their emotional struggles
Don’t share their conversations with others, unless they specify
Don’t be their doctor and don’t try to cure them. Seek professional help from an experienced psychologist if you feel you aren’t making any progress by simply talking to them.
Don’t make your child feel isolated
Don’t let them escape reality by indulging them in social media, video games, or other entertainment
By building on the last point, limiting social media and other forms of entertainment is crucial for dampening the impact of depression. There have been numerous studies that show how adversely social media impacts mental health.
The constant bombardment of infotainment constantly fires up the neurons in our brains and causes excess dopamine release. This makes it so that normal activities that used to bring us pleasure, don’t anymore and we start to build up a tolerance.
So we need to ensure our kids use their smartphones within limits – without becoming addicted to them.
How to Ensure Behavioral Reinforcement?
Using a child monitoring app is the best way to go about it. They are easy to use and have shown positive results in limiting smartphone and social media use. XNSPY is a good place for parents to start since it is user-friendly once installed on the target device.
This child monitoring app will start extracting data from the device and delivering it to the user's account via the Internet once it has been configured and is in sync with the app servers.
XNSPY collects data automatically with the least amount of input necessary, so your teenager continues using the device normally. The information is downloaded automatically, giving parents access to real-time data and letting them see how their teenager uses their phone.
XNSPY’s app blocker and screen record features are precisely meant for this. The screen record feature takes screenshots at quick intervals so parents know what apps and content their kids consume on their phones. And the app blocker feature blocks any app you might deem destructive to their mental health.
A Final Word
Look closely for any signs of depression that your teen might be showing. Have an open discussion with them without passing any judgment. But don’t try to be their savior and seek professional help if you feel like you are not making any progress. And as a final step, limit their social media and smartphone.
About the Author
Sarah Jones is a US-based writer focusing on business startups and employee surveillance. With her expertise, she offers valuable insights and practical advice to empower entrepreneurs in building successful ventures. Through her work, she addresses the complexities of employee surveillance, ensuring a balanced and ethical approach in the workplace.