It’s August, and that means that school is starting. Middle school and high school, in particular, are times of significant emotional challenges. Not only are students adapting to physical changes and emotional growth and maturity, the fact is that depression is a big problem for young people. In 2012, according to government statistics (childstats.gov/americaschildren/health2.asp), 11 percent of kids between the ages of 12 and 17 had at least one major depressive episode. These episodes increase their risk of suicide and drug abuse.
All parents know that raising adolescents is a challenge. The complexities of adolescent culture are compounded by their even more complex brain chemistry. In the end, it can be very difficult to sort through which behavioral changes are normal and which are pathologic and dangerous.
Because of this, it’s very important to educate yourself and talk to your kids. And talk. And talk. If you think you’re being intrusive or invasive, that’s not necessarily bad. (In general, they want your attention more than they admit.) Young people will frequently say “everything is fine” — when everything is far from fine and they are feeling sadness and despair.
It’s important to spend a lot of time with the kids. And while you do, watch for signs of depression — like withdrawal from friends and family, loss of enjoyment of normal activities, expressions of guilt or worthlessness and increasing emotional outbursts. Be attentive to increased physical complaints such as fatigue and loss of appetite. This list just scratches the surface, so I’ve attached a link with more details: mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/teen-depression/symptoms-causes/dxc-20164556.
Furthermore, as you talk to your kids, don’t be afraid (or ashamed) to snoop. Know what they’re doing, where they are going and who their friends are. Ask who they are texting, what they’re reading, and what they’re thinking about. And don’t accept “Oh, nothing” as an answer. They are always thinking about something.
And since most of them seem permanently attached to a telephone, snoop there as well. There are ways to track their phones and to follow the websites they visit and the texts they send and receive. And you can simply tell them that you want access to their passwords. Odds are you’re paying for the thing anyway. This isn’t to be mean, but to be diligent. The texts and searches on their phones can be clues to their emotional struggles and also to dangers or cries for help.
Remember that even kids with loving, attentive families can spiral into dangerous depression. Don’t forget that Christians have brains, and depression is a real disease of the brain, not a moral or spiritual failure. So never be afraid to discuss it with the kids; admit that it’s real and seek counseling and medication as indicated.
Your efforts might just be life-saving.