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Where to turn when your teenage son battles depression

Many boys have various interests and parents try to balance between encouraging that exploration while placing age appropriate limitations on actions. But, when a child has depression a parent’s job changes. Depression can negatively impact family and peer relationships, school performance, and reduce a child’s interest in activities. Anger and behavioral problems are common symptoms of depression and some older children will self-medicate through drugs and alcohol. Suicidal thoughts and self-injurious behaviors like cutting are occurring at younger ages too.

Many parents struggle with how to help their child overcome the depressive episode. Since many of the symptoms that children exhibit when they are depressed are behaviorally based, parents get caught between wanting to be understanding, but not accepting of the behavior. When anger and defiance is the only interaction between a parent and a son, finding a solution to break the cycle can be hard. Knowing what to do and where to turn for help can give parents peace of mind.


Do seek help for your child

Parents need to reach out to behavioral health providers to help support their son and to support them. Behavioral health providers can assist the child in managing the depressive symptoms and reducing the negative impact. They can also guide parents through the process and help parents to recognize signs and symptoms to monitor. Behavioral health providers can also assist in determining if medication management is recommended.

Do seek help for yourself

Depression tends to run in families. If you as a parent is experiencing depression, anxiety or stress, it is important for you to seek help too. When you are able to overcome your own emotional challenges, you have more energy to address your child’s demands. Parents need to care for themselves to take better care of their child.

Do set limits

Just because your child is depressed does not mean you have to accept his behavior. Provide consistent consequences for behaviors. But work on catching your son being good so that the positive interactions increase. Punishment does not help our kids understand what behavior we expect. Instead, provide praise and rewards for appropriate behavior. When the defiance and anger cycle is really bad, look for small areas of progress even if the exact appropriate behavior has not been achieved.

Do spend time with family and friends

When depression hits, it is hard to find joy or interest in activities. Make time to engage your child in fun activities even if it is for brief periods. Children often won’t seek out social activities when depressed, so parents need to take some initiative to keep their child involved. Stay connected to activities and friends that your son enjoyed before the depression. This helps provide them opportunity to laugh and play and will make it easier for them to fully participate in the activities when the depression has been resolved.

Do get physically active

Physical activity is a great stress reducer and mood improver. If your son wasn’t very physically active before the depression, start small like a 15 minute walk or other similar activity. If your son enjoyed being physically active before being depressed, engage in those physical activities with him. You may still need to start with short periods of time.


Do not take it personally

Depression happens and it doesn’t mean you as a parent did anything wrong or could have done anything to prevent it. When parents spend too much time in self-blame, they don’t have as much time to put towards solutions. Focus on what you can do and not on what you perceived you should have done.

Do not assume it’s a phase

Don’t put off treatment thinking that your son is just going through a phase. Depression is real but so is treatment. Treatment for depression is effective and can help your son.

Do not stop seeking treatment

Sometimes the first behavioral health provider you encounter is not a good fit for your son. If you’re not seeing improvements or have concerns about treatment talk to the provider. If you don’t feel you can make it work with that provider, consider changing providers instead of stopping treatment.

Do not stop taking medication

If your child is prescribed a medication, monitor its use carefully. Skipping doses decreases the effectiveness of the medication and can have other side effects depending on which medication is prescribed. Even if you son is feeling much better and you don’t feel like he needs the medication anymore, discuss it with the prescribing provider. Many medications need to be discontinued in a planned way. You want to make sure that the depressive symptoms do not return. So, following the provider’s recommendation about when and how to reduce the medication as you work towards your son going off the medication completely is important.

Do not do it alone

Many parents try to manage all of the new challenges of having a depressed child by themselves. Seek out your support network or get involved in support groups. Depression is exhausting and there are people who care about you and your son and would be willing to help support you. If you do not feel comfortable reaching out to them, then at least reach out to a local support group or parenting group in the community or online. It can help give you the strength to keep moving forward during a difficult time.

Jumping cartoon

If your child is experiencing signs of depression, then you can help them out by being supportive, seeking out professional help from a mental health professional, and ensuring that your child is able to overcome symptoms, whether it be through medication or family, friends, and other physical activities. It is also important that you seek help for yourself. Keep this advice in mind during your path to help your child overcome depression.

More expert advice about Depression

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Adelle Cadieux, PsyDPediatric Psychologist

Dr. Cadieux, pediatric psychologist, Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, Grand Rapids, MI, is a member of The American Psychological Association (APA), APA's Division 54: Society of Pediatric Psychology, and Division 54 Pediatric Obesity Special In...

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