When You Think Your Teen May Be Depressed

Q. My concern is that my teenage son who has been struggling with remote learning and isolation, is of a generation that grew up having to be worried about school shootings, climate, higher levels of political divide, protests and rioting, and now a pandemic. I’m wondering if I should have an in-depth conversation with him about anxiety and depression in relation to the fact that he has grown up with these things and therefore is at greater risk. On the other hand, am I sending him the message that you should be anxious because you’ve grown up with these things? His symptoms are not what I would consider to be serious, but I’d like to prevent them from becoming serious. I’d appreciate any feedback or suggestions. 

A. Your question about sending him the message that perhaps he should be anxious because of these world events is a perceptive one. Yes, he has so much to contend with in his young life, but I do believe that every generation has its worries. I grew up with the threat of nuclear bombs and the Vietnam War with its protests and rioting. Previous generations feared polio and lived through WW2 and the Great Depression. When it is in our backyard, it feels so great. Be aware of the stresses these events are causing you and understand the reality may be quite different for your son. Many teens are self-absorbed and get more depressed about how many likes they are getting on Instagram than what is happening with the climate. That is not to say that many do feel an enormous burden of where their futures are headed in a most precarious world.

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Turn Your Stress into Positive Modeling

Seriously, has parenting ever been more stressful than it has been the past 5 months? And it continues as many of you are stressed over continued remote learning, whether to send your kids back to school or not (if you even have a choice), worry that your children are falling behind, frustration over no uninterrupted time to do your work, and fear that you are failing as a parent from overwhelm.

I often talk about the importance of Being instead of Doing. Your children want you—but not the nagging, yelling, telling them what to do you. They want to simply be with you. It may look like they demand everything and act out just “to get your attention”. But these are the ways a young child knows how to ask for you.

Being Time is more important than ever these days. Yeah, I know, you don’t have time nor one more ounce of energy for it. Frankly you probably just want to stuff your kids in a closet for a couple hours/days while you chill. But I’m not suggesting that you do more. I’m suggesting that you be more. Being time means being more true to yourself which can actually fill you up and help you feel less stressed.

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Change Your Beliefs; Change Your Experience

The beliefs we each hold can sustain us, move us forward, and hold us. They can also sabotage our desires and drive our lives in a direction we either don’t want to go or, more likely, are too afraid to change. But the good news is we can tackle those beliefs and change them—or at least change the way we experience them.

For instance, I have always (or since high school anyway) believed that I was not very smart. That belief limited my thinking about what was possible for me in my life. Then I realized my belief got planted after a high school history teacher told me I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I didn’t even know what that meant at the time, but I did know it was a derogatory remark about my intelligence. I have never forgotten that moment. Who knows where she was coming from? Maybe she was having a bad day, maybe she really didn’t think I had a good perspective on history. Who cares!! What matters is that I let that moment in time influence how I saw myself—until I realized the silliness of it.

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June ’20 Q&A – Taking the High Road

Q. Many years ago, I wrote an email asking for advice about an incident that had happened to my son. You wrote a response that was not only full of honesty and wisdom but that assuaged my feelings of incompetence as a parent. Today, that young boy is now a man and is doing fairly well. Our relationship, although challenging at times, is a healthy and loving one. My question today is about this time of racial disparity and pain in our country. As a person who believes in the importance of doing inner work so that we can be better people to others, I would like your opinion on how to respond, handle racist and disparaging remarks when I am surrounded by people who have very different thoughts than my own. It is unfortunate but true that not everyone in the country will speak up for racial injustice for fear of confrontation and or broken relationships. I have always taught my children to open their eyes and see the injustice, to be kind and fair and considerate of others. I fear for them as well. I want them to stand up for themselves and the healthy beliefs they were taught. I know that in order for change there has to be suffering but I am not sure how to come out of it with integrity. Your response will be gladly appreciated.

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Privilege, Fairness, and the Coronavirus:

A guide for conversations with kids about the virus, the protests, and race.

There’s a lot of material online about how to talk to kids about the state of the world right now. But you also want them to think for themselves. Kids are so used to being told what to do, what to think, what to feel, they don’t get much opportunity to grow opinions about the world. They need to have their own opinions to expand and develop. This needs to be cultivated. The current state of the world lends itself to cultivation. The following is my guide to help you engage your children in thinking rather than simply telling them what you want them to think.

Rule of thumb when teaching children: Start from what they know.

Fairness

Kids are great judges of fairness. Under age 6ish, cognitive development means it’s pretty hard for them to think about what is fair for another if it means they lose out. But if they’re not involved in the problem, they know what’s fair and what’s not. You will find out what they know by asking questions. Remember, fair doesn’t mean liking it. And feeling fair is subjective; being fair is objective.

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May ’20 Q&A – Hitting a Wall?

Q. I’m utterly overwhelmed. I’m resentful of those who have support from a partner and grandparents and guilty for feeling resentful. Frustrated that there’s no end in sight. Exhausted, emotionally and physically. Sad. I miss my family and friends. Lonely. 3 kids 1, 4 and 8 entirely on my own. Working 60 hours a week. Trying to be grateful I’m employed but there is no balance possible when you have 3 kids in tow. I don’t bathe or sleep without them and if I try they scream or immediately ‘need’ me for something which is their anxiety showing up. It’s endless. How do I stay sane?

A. One Mom I know describes her covid situation as “drowning in humans”. This sounds like yours as well. I cannot presume to solve your problems, but I hope we can reduce your angst.

First, go right ahead and feel resentful. Who wouldn’t in your shoes? Let go of that guilt. You have every right. Lonely and physically exhausted, sure. No way around that. But let’s try to unload the emotional exhaustion somewhat.

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The Lessons of Stress

Ever notice that when things are going really well and you feel balanced, you are patient, flexible, empathic, and fun-loving with your children? And when you feel generally crummy, stressed, tired and hungry, your focus turns in on yourself and you get quite controlling? It’s natural when something triggers you and you feel out of control of something (a world-wide pandemic perhaps), you grab something in your reach that you think you can control. Your children are easily grabbable.

So if this happens to you under stress, what do you think might be going on with your child when you react to his behavior thinking, He’s trying to control me?

He’s not trying to control you. He’s stressed. And it doesn’t take much to stress out a young child. The younger they are, the less control of their lives and the fewer coping mechanisms they have to manage that stress. Whenever a naturally egocentric child is not getting what he wants, he experiences stress. So he grabs for control wherever he can—grabbing things, grabbing attention, grabbing you or a sibling.

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Apr. ’20 Q&A – Trying to Homeschool and Police at the Same Time?

Q. I’m trying to find the balance of working from home, homeschooling my 8 yo, and watching my 15 yo to make sure he gets his work done and doesn’t spend all his time on YouTube and video games. The hardest part is seeing the effects of this shut-down on my teen who has lost all his social interactions. I feel like I suddenly have to change from parent to homeschooler and police officer. I don’t have the right tools. What do I do?

A. Those jobs descriptions are enough to drive anyone mad who hasn’t chosen them. And you’re right, you don’t have the tools for being a homeschooler and a police officer. This new world is enough to make us all feel ill-equipped. But family has not changed—only how it is conducted. It requires adjusting but not learning new skills.

First of all, you are not a homeschooler. You are a facilitator of your child’s online learning. When you fear your child is going to be far behind when he returns to school, then you must become a homeschooler. But ask any homeschooler and you will likely find that aside from curriculum, much of their children’s learning comes from exploring and discovering their environment. That’s why they homeschool.

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There’s a Crack in Everything

These are dark times even though it’s getting lighter outside. None of us ever imagined—even a month ago—that we would be sheltered in our homes, fearing the coronavirus, learning daily the frightening number of new cases and deaths, unable to get together with friends and family, wearing masks when food supplies must be refilled, and disinfecting mail and groceries.

Who knew we would either be lucky enough to be home with children scrambling to figure out how to homeschool and keep them occupied or unlucky enough to be an “essential worker” unable to be home with children out of school for who knows how long? Or to be alone. Or to be sick.

The unknown is frightening. When will Covid-19 be a thing of the past? Will it? When will we feel safe to send our kids back to school? Will we have a job, a business, a salary when this is over? Will town businesses, restaurants, and theaters reopen? What will life be like?

My favorite Leonard Cohen song is Anthem. I get a chill every time I hear, “There’s a crack, a crack in everything. That’s where the light gets in.” What an image for this time. There are cracks in this darkness and the light can come in when we see those cracks. But we have to look for them.

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Mar’ 20 Q&A – Stuck At Home With Meltdowns

Q.  Stuck at home with three kids is bad enough but one of them is going to drive me insane. My older and my younger are doing their work and managing okay, but my 8 yr. old refuses to do his school work, along with everything else, and has regular meltdowns. He’s always been tough and resistant to what I want him to do, but now he just won’t do anything I say and is starting to use profanity toward me and my husband. I yell, send him to his room, but mostly just give up. What else can I do?

A. I’m sure you are the voice of so many parents all over the world today cooped up at home with the whole family. You are scared and anxious, not to mention frustrated with kids underfoot all day long. So are your kids.

I am going to assume that your 8 yr. old is what I call an Integrity child. That means his individual make-up (not your doing) is extremely sensitive. He was born with a core sense of justice, rightness. He will not be told what to do and will not take no for an answer. This does not mean he is not caring and cooperative. It does mean that when you tell him what to do, he feels controlled because he is more sensitive to that than your others. And given the present circumstances, his sensitivity is on hyper-alert so he is stressed most of the time. One cannot be at their best when stressed. No one knows that more than you.

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