Teens and Depression

By Jan Kern
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email
Amanda Rohde/iStock
How do we stand with our teens through this adolescent season of change and emotional upheaval?

Amy glanced up from folding towels and T-shirts as her daughter shuffled through the kitchen. She sensed the sadness that weighed her daughter down, drooping her shoulders and erasing her usually easy smile. Amy’s heart sank. It seemed only a short time ago her daughter’s laughter and enthusiasm reverberated through the house. Now she was quiet, withdrawn and moody.

As a parent going about daily life, you might also be watching and asking: Is my teen OK? We all want our children to meet life’s challenges with strength and vigor, so it’s painful to watch them tumble into hopelessness or depression. How do we stand with our teens through this adolescent season of change and emotional upheaval?

Is this really normal?

Walt Mueller, in his book The Space Between, calls the adolescent years “the earthquake of adolescence.” It definitely feels that way. We are shaken. Our teens are shaken. And this is a common experience.

Hormones cause brain and body changes that affect an adolescent’s sleep, eating habits, emotions and social well-being. They’re constantly adjusting to the fluctuations. They want to be adults, but getting there feels downright awkward. They often push against parental requests or expectations with defiance or tears — and no one knows which to expect.

Questions fill their minds and may remain unspoken: Who am I? What am I supposed to do with my life? Am I liked? And it doesn’t matter if their self-perception is inaccurate. It feels real to them.

This is all normal — a part of the developmental process — and yet it’s so very difficult for them and for us.

What does depression look like?

With all these changes, our teens may feel physically, emotionally or spiritually overwhelmed. In light of recent studies that show 28 percent of adolescents will experience some kind of depression, parents can’t help but wonder what depression looks like in the life of a teen.

At one end of the spectrum, depression can become a medical illness that severely limits daily functioning, lasts for months or possibly years and requires professional intervention. At the other end of the spectrum, a teen may temporarily “feel blue” in the midst of certain events and developmental changes.

At first glance, a teen’s depression, including its severity, may not be clear. A few signs to watch for include:

  • agitation or restlessness
  • changes in appetite
  • fatigue or difficulty sleeping
  • loss of interest in activities
  • isolating behavior
  • acting out or defiance
  • changes in school performance
  • feeling sad, worthless, hopeless or helpless

How can we show love?

When our actions express support and compassion, our teens are better equipped to handle the emotional challenges of adolescence. Communicating the following messages will help affirm our teens so they know they are not alone.

I want to hear what you think and feel. 

Create a pleasant home environment with open and safe communication. Make sure your teen knows you’re available and ready to listen. Take time to hear her out so she can feel confident that she’ll receive your attention and compassion when she’s ready to share the tough stuff.

I am here — standing with you and for you.

Teach and model healthy coping responses, including purposeful time with God. Encourage balance, rest, reasonable downtime and nutritious food. Your example will help your teen believe you’re ready to go through this challenging season with him.

I enjoy who you are now and who you are becoming.

Help your teen identify personal strengths and character qualities, then offer verbal encouragement. Let her take increasing leadership in designing her schedule, and express your interest in what interests her. Invite dialogue, then listen as she expresses her ideas. Your attentiveness will help your teen appreciate who God created her to be.

As you help your teen walk through the ups and downs of adolescence, remember that depression is not an indictment of bad parenting. Much of the turmoil of the teen years is beyond a parent’s control, and even teens of loving, attentive parents fall into depression. If you are dealing with a depressed teen, you don’t need to struggle on your own. You can email Focus on the Family at [email protected] or call 855-771-HELP from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Mountain time) to find the resources you need.

Jan Kern is a life and leadership coach who works with at-risk youth alongside her husband, Tom. She is the author of several books for teens.

Copyright © 2011 by Jan Kern. Used by permission.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

You May Also Like

Thank you [field id="first_name"] for signing up to get the free downloads of the Marrying Well Guides. 

Click the image below to access your guide and learn about the counter-cultural, biblical concepts of intentionality, purity, community and Christian compatibility.

(For best results use IE 8 or higher, Firefox, Chrome or Safari)

To stay up-to-date with the latest from Boundless, sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter.

If you have any comments or questions about the information included in the Guide, please send them to [email protected]

Click here to return to Boundless

Focus on the Family

Thank you for submitting this form. You will hear from us soon. 

The Daily Citizen

The Daily Citizen from Focus on the Family exists to be your most trustworthy news source. Our team of analysts is devoted to giving you timely and relevant analysis of current events and cultural trends – all from a biblical worldview – so that you can be inspired and assured that the information you share with others comes from a reliable source.

Alive to Thrive is a biblical guide to preventing teen suicide. Anyone who interacts with teens can learn how to help prevent suicidal thinking through sound practical and clinical advice, and more importantly, biblical principles that will provide a young person with hope in Christ.

Bring Your Bible to School Day Logo Lockup with the Words Beneath

Every year on Bring Your Bible to School Day, students across the nation celebrate religious freedom and share God’s love with their friends. This event is designed to empower students to express their belief in the truth of God’s Word–and to do so in a respectful way that demonstrates the love of Christ.

Focus on the Family’s® Foster Care and Adoption program focuses on two main areas:

  • Wait No More events, which educate and empower families to help waiting kids in foster care

  • Post-placement resources for foster and adoptive families

Christian Counselors Network

Find Christian Counselors, Marriage & Family Therapists, Psychologists, Social Workers and Psychiatrists near you! Search by location, name or specialty to find professionals in Focus on the Family’s Christian Counselors Network who are eager to assist you.

Boundless is a Focus on the Family community for Christian young adults who want to pursue faith, relationships and adulthood with confidence and joy.

Through reviews, articles and discussions, Plugged In exists to shine a light on the world of popular entertainment while giving you and your family the essential tools you need to understand, navigate and impact the culture in which we live.

Have you been looking for a way to build your child’s faith in a fun and exciting way?
Adventures in Odyssey® audio dramas will do just that. Through original audio stories brought to life by actors who make you feel like part of the experience; these fictional, character-building dramas use storytelling to teach lasting truths.

Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored all-inclusive intensives offer marriage counseling for couples who are facing an extreme crisis in their marriage, and who may even feel they are headed for divorce.