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Help With Depression For Teens

Help your teen combat depression by volunteering together. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Help your teen combat depression by volunteering together.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of the simplest things you can do to help your teen combat mild depression is to help them be more selfless.  These days the commonly held belief is that we all need to work on ourselves; we need to take time out for ourselves; we need to focus on our own internal growth.  If we would spend extra effort improving then we’d find happiness.  Since happiness is the opposite of depressed, everything would get better, right?

 

If this is such sage advice, why hasn’t it worked yet?  Why are people feeling lonely, purposeless, aimless, and easily overwhelmed?

 

The answer can be found by looking down and looking up.  If you look at ants you will notice they are almost always working in teams.  They are following one another in a line, and they live in a colony.  Ants even carry their dead back to the nest.  If you look all the way up the the heavens, you see that even God himself does not work alone.  He has Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

 

Nothing about the way the world works indicates that we are meant to fix ourselves.  Part of the reason I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE working with teens is that they are still living in a family.  While the family may come broken, piecemeal or otherwise, there are always people around the teens.  The healing in my clients has come from adjustments made to their relationships far more often than adjustments to their inner selves.  Even when they adjust their inner selves, they don’t seem to feel content until their relationships begin to change.

 

I see a great number of girls who come because they are struggling with body image.  They are trying to reach perfection on the outside.  A perfect body is a lonely, isolated pursuit.  Even if these girls achieve their desired appearance, they are unhappy and unfulfilled.  Again, we were created to be in relationship with others.

 

Now that you know the background, you can likely see how this will relate to your child’s depression.  Stop encouraging your depressed teenager to work on him or herself.  Instead, push your teenager to work on someone else or something else.  Take them down to the soup kitchen on Saturday.  Have them volunteer at the YMCA to play with kids after school.  Take them to the library and have them volunteer in the Friends of the Library bookstore.  Sign them up for the Big Brother/Big Sister program (as the big brother or sister).

 

The antidote to mild depression is to get into relationship and give of yourself (Please note, for more severe clinical depression the most important thing to do is seek professional help.  Clinical depression is not resolved with a simple change of attitude or change of scene.  It is dangerous and requires intervention).

 

So, when you see your teenager tonight, tell them you know how to help them perk up.  Don’t make this optional.  Get them involved in helping someone else and watch them begin to find a sense of joy.  If you work alongside them, you’ll get to experience that joy and you’ll strengthen your relationship with your teenager!

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Feeding the Teenage Mind

Adolescents spend a lot of time filling their mind with things that don't necessarily edify them as a person. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Adolescents spend a lot of time filling their mind with things that don’t necessarily edify them as a person.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Without meaning to, we’ve let our kids fill their minds with intellectual junk food.  We are taught to be very careful about what we eat so that we can keep our physical bodies healthy.  In our culture though, we don’t pay a lot of attention to feeding our minds with things that keep the mind healthy.  Other than schoolwork, and maybe the occasional church service or bible study, our teenagers fill their minds with social media, TV and whatever they happen to search on the internet.

 

Adolescents are at a stage where they are heavily influenced by what they read, hear and see.  As parents, it’s our responsibility to strongly encourage our teens in learning things that will truly help them in life.  This ranges from what they watch on TV to what they read online.  I realize that you can’t control everything entering your teenager’s mind.  However, you can prohibit them from watching TV shows with nudity, sexual content, cursing, drugs, etc.- whatever goes against how you’d like them to act.  Because these things are so incredibly commonplace, even on “family friendly” shows, we have become numb to them.  I was watching sports last night and a Victoria’s Secret commercial came on.  At some point in our culture’s not too distant past that would have been seen as pornography (a bunch of girls in bras and panties making seductive faces and poses); it would never have been allowed during a sports game that kids are probably watching with their parents.  Now though, that’s commonplace.  You have to think really carefully about whether you’re okay with your teenage son or daughter seeing this kind of thing.

 

Okay, so the logical question that follows my soapbox rant is, ‘What should I have my teen viewing/hearing?’  The answer to that question lies within the bounds of your values.  In our house we follow the Christian faith, so our kids spend at least some of their internet time using apps that help them understand their faith better.  In my cousin’s house, music, education and culture were highly valued so my aunt had my cousin watching movies that broadened his horizons on different cultures.  These weren’t boring documentaries, just movies made in other countries that showed another view of life in the storytelling.  This was intentional on the part of my aunt, and it paid off as my cousin became an adult.

 

There also needs to be a limit to social media.  It’s up to you how you handle this.  Maybe you limit the amount of time your son or daughter spends on it.  Maybe you strongly encourage your son or daughter to follow their role models and interact with those people as often as their friends.  That is one of the great things about social media- it’s actually possible to interact with people you could never otherwise reach.

 

The last thing that’s really important is for you to assess how you spend your spare time.  Are you watching trashy TV?  Are you always posting pictures for your friends on Facebook at the expense of reading a good book?  If you look at yourself and realize you are not feeding your mind healthy intellectual food, make a few changes.  This is actually really hard at first, but the example you set pays huge dividends with your kids.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Becoming Self-Confident

If you want to be more self-assured, self-confident, have a higher self-esteem, and a better sense of self, then you need to stop focusing on yourself.

What? You must be joking, right?

No, I’m serious. When you want to work on yourself all the time, it is harder to focus on others. Compassion, empathy, and action are all things that occur in relationship to others. To improve yourself, you must stop thinking about THE self.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Pain Increases Depression

There is a strong correlation between pain and depressed moods. If you find your teenager seems irritable and down, one thing that might be worth exploring is if they are in chronic pain. Not every kid will complain when they have something nagging in their body. Perhaps your child has always had allergies, and everyone is so used to him having a runny nose that it’s easy to underestimate the negative impact this has on his moods. The bottom line is, pain can lead to feelings of depression. This means not every case of depression is psychiatric. It also works in reverse. Depression can lead to symptoms of pain. Things are not always as clear-cut as they first appear.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT