“IF YOU CAN’T GET RID OF THE SKELETON IN YOUR CLOSET, YOU’D BEST TEACH IT TO DANCE.” ––George Bernard Shaw
When in doubt, always err on the side of communication. In other words, ask! Ask about what they are feeling. Do it in as loving and nonjudgmental way as possible. Ask open ended questions like, “What was the hardest part of your day?” “If I had a magic wand, what would you want changed in your life?” “Sadness is just a feeling but sometimes it feels like we have failed if we can’t make ourselves happy. When have you felt this way?” And if the discussion leads them to reveal that their mood is more than just the usual teenager stuff, do not be afraid to ask the hard questions. “Have you ever thought about hurting yourself?” “Do you have a plan?” No parent wants to hear their child is suicidal but not asking is far more painful.
What do you do if you think they might be depressed? I only have one major piece of counsel. LOVE THEM UNCONDITIONALLY. No matter how rude, disrespectful, tearful, what addictions they get into, or no matter how many times they get arrested, they need to know that your love and support will always be there. This doesn’t mean take away the consequences of their actions, but let them know what they do does not change that you love who they are. You know your child best. When they were younger, did they respond to sincere compliments? Hugs? A note of guidance? Quality time together? Gifts? Good old conversation? Find as many ways, and as frequent as necessary to let them know you will stand by them. It is ok to tell them that what they are doing does not change their value in your eyes. Love them with as much energy and effort as you did when you first started dating someone. How often did you talk to them? I bet you spent more than 15 hours a week devoted to them. It may have been phone calls, it may have been dates, but there was one on one time with your new fling. They will need you to be present in their life. Even if all they let you do is read a book in the same room with them, do it. Do whatever they will allow. The message will be clear, “my mom and dad are there for me if I need them”.
Finally, seek professional help early. I do not think a family practitioner should be your primary source of medical support. Get a specialist, a real psychiatrist. If your teenager says things like “I’d be better off dead” or “I don’t see any way out” or jokes about suicide, do not delay getting help. This is very serious. There is 24 hour suicide prevention lifeline for these things. 1(800)273-TALK or go to the nearest emergency room. It really is a life or death situation and sometimes you have no idea how fragile they are. These type of comments may very well be their subtle cries for help. Do not miss the cry. Be prepared to cry with them. They will need it.
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