Editor's note: This article about youth stress and depression was written by Alison Cathro, a Sammamish resident and parent. The parent meeting took place Thursday evening at the school. Sammamish Patch appreciates her contribution. On June 1, parents also can meet Cherry O'Neill of the Sammamish Plateau Parenting Networking Group.
By Alison Cathro
How parents cope with stress can help your child or harm your child.
Sue Eastgard, Director, Youth Suicide Prevention Program of Washington state began the conversation with parents about adolescent stress and depression. What is stress? And does a youth’s stress really differ from an adult’s experience? Stress is a normal physiological response which affects the mind, body, and behavior in many ways, and everyone experiences stress differently. With this, I hope you will have the tools to know when to worry and when to seek help.
Parenting your teen
- Thirty percent of Washington 8th graders felt that they were not able to effectively cope with important changes that occur in their life.
The group was able to identify numerous sources of stress teenagers experience along with signs and symptoms of how stress is displayed. Everyone could agree that teenagers’ lives are constantly changing and there is a fine balance for parents to know when to help their teen problem solve or when to loosen the leash and allow them to make mistakes. It can be very seductive for parents to be needed and do too much for our children. More difficult, is allowing them to make mistakes (when safety isn’t a risk) and guide them with skills so teens can learn to make good decisions for themselves. The most important task for a parent is to help their teen build relationships with the larger world to prepare them to be on their own successfully and independently in the future.
Feeling low or blue
- The majority of children and adolescents with depression do not get help they need.
The ups and downs of teenage life does not immediately equate to depression or a mental illness. Parents need to listen and watch for teen overload and be available in a capacity so they know that you are approachable and present to listen when they are ready to try to engage with you. Teens are not usually looking for answers or a fix to their problems; they just need someone who cares to hear them out. That someone can be a friend, a parent or another trusted adult in their life.
Be aware of your own technique to draw information from your teen. Girls are going to respond to you very differently from boys. A conversation with a girl drawing on her feelings and emotions with the question of “How do you feel about that?” will help her connect with her experience in a supportive way. A boy would not necessarily be in touch with his feelings and can respond better to task orientated scenarios or techniques. You may try: “What do you think about that?” to draw out conversation in a non threatening way. With either a girl or a boy ask an open ended question such as: “Tell me about what is going on.” This is very effective only if you remember to ‘shut up’ (J as we were told) and wait for the answer. With an unsuccessful attempt to engage with your teen (it is) important to let them know that you are still available to connect with them at a different time and request that when they are ready for a conversation they can get back to you.
- Over 30 percent of Washington state 10th graders indicated that they sometimes think, “Life is not worth it.”
Parents need to be aware of teens’ behaviors and have awareness about their well being. Depression in teens is displayed differently than in adults. There is reason to be concerned if your teen has persistent sadness, a decrease in school performance, irritability and problems with authority. Note changes in appearance and low self esteem or an overreaction to criticism. Other worries are frequent physical complaints. If you have doubts about how you are seeing your own teen because you feel like you are in your own bubble, look to the adults in your life such as friends, coaches, teachers; those individuals who spend time with your teen who can help fill in the gaps while you are not there.
When approaching your teen, you may want to ask “What is going on here?” or “What does this mean to you?” Ask, “What do you want to do” to give some power and control to the teen in the decision making process and ask, “What do you want me to do?” Exploring options, including counseling, has huge benefits. School counselors can be utilized for help and support not only for your teen but for yourself.
Help is available. No stigma attached.
First of all, as parents pay attention to your coping skills to stress. Here is a check list of helpful ways to model desirable behaviors to your children. They are watching you!
- Avoid alcohol and drugs, including tobacco. This shouldn’t necessarily be the first thing you turn to in order to relax on a routine basis.
- Decrease negative self-talk. Pay attention to what you are saying about yourself, your body image, in front of your child.
- Eliminate excess caffeine intake. Check recommended guidelines for daily intake.
- Exercise, eat and sleep regularly. Experience the natural health benefits of routine.
- Build a network of friends. Help your child that you have a variety of relationships which meet a variety of activities and interests in your life.
- Learn to feel good about a competent job. Not perfect!
- Learn relaxation skills. For example: Take a time out, read, walk, visualizing, listening to music, and journaling.
- Learn practical coping skills. For example: Problem solving, handling thoughts.
Next: Show you care. Ask the question. Go get help.
If you are worried about a young person and suicide has crossed your mind as a concern, trust your judgement. Do something now!
Let the person know you really care. Talk about your feelings and ask about his or hers. Listen carefully to what they say. Don’t hesitate to raise the subject. Talking with young people about suicide WON’T PUT THE IDEA IN THEIR HEADS. Chances are, if you have observed any of the warning signs, they are already thinking about it. Be direct in a caring, non-confrontational way. Get the conversation started. The first steps toward instilling a sense of hope are: Showing your concern, raising the issue, and listening to the young person’s feelings. Keep moving forward, together. Call for help.
IF THE YOUNG PERSON HAS EXPRESSED AN IMMEDIATE PLAN, OR HAS ACCESS TO A GUN OR OTHER POTENTIALLY DEADLY MEANS, DO NOT LEAVE HIM OR HER ALONE. Get help immediately!
Resources for parents and youth:
- School counselor
- Crisis telephone hotline
- Physician/health care provider
- Mental health specialist
- Coaches and parents or clergy or religious leaders
For more information go to: