5 Tips for Preventing Teenage Stress and Depression
It saddened me to hear my sister recount how her young pre-teen daughter was coming home from school and talking about her friends struggling with stress and depression and suicide. It was even more heart-breaking to hear how it influenced my young niece and ended up dragging her down as well, as she tried to support her friends.
Some children genuinely have very very difficult situations to deal with, whether it be at home or dealing with merciless peers at school or some other situation that influences their ability to cope.
If this is your child, then you may need to seek professional help for them.
But if your child just seems to get dragged down by a tough day or by the attitudes of those around them, here are 5 tips to teach your child so they can walk through tough times and come out with a more positive outlook on life instead of succumbing to the stress.
And by learning these skills, they may actually be in a position to help their friends adopt them as well as they head into the most difficult and confusing years of their lives.
1. Be Thankful
Some children have very difficult circumstances. Some feel like there is nothing to be thankful for in their lives. But I believe there is something in each person’s life to be grateful for. It might be a teacher that seems to respect their need for solitude or that one friend that actually cares. It might be the puppy from next door that comes to visit or the sunshine on any given day. If a Christian, then the friendship of Jesus is one of the sweetest gifts that no one can take away.
Whatever life brings, focusing on gratitude and what is good can help lift anyone out of a depressing mood.
2. Watch Your Self-Talk
Children, and many adults, tend to speak in absolutes and superlatives! Here are some common ones:
I hate school!
Everything went wrong today!
I’m always the one who gets in trouble!
The teacher always picks on me!
My friends never do what I want to do!
I can’t do math.
I’ll never make the basketball team.
Everyone else got to go!
Sound familiar? While these comments pepper the language of any student, if your child habitually speaks in such negative absolutes, it will eventually affect their perspective if themselves and their life.
Rather, we need to encourage them to search out the truth behind these comments. Perhaps don’t delve into it right away, give them some time to unwind. But once they are calm and in a place where they can think more objectively, work with them through the emotion behind the words.
What did actually go wrong at school today? What happened? Often it was just one incident that colored their entire perspective.
When they are encouraged to label their negative feelings with a truthful account of what happened, often they see that it wasn’t as bad as they felt it was. This empowers them to not allow a few incidents to blanket the rest of life with negativity.
3. Speak Truth in Love
I’ve been there. I still do it sometimes. A friend confides in me about a difficult situation. I want to empathize with them. So I say, “Yeah, I know, I feel the same way…” when I don’t. Or I say something that makes it seem I’m in the same situation, when I’m not.
The intention is good. I want to love my friend and support them in the most meaningful way, by literally walking through the pain with them. I want them to trust me.
But that’s not helpful to anyone. And it’s certainly not a helpful way for your teen to stay out of depression while walking with a friend through it.
If your child is the one in whom others confide, it may help to role-play truth-filled ways your teen can support a friend going through a difficult time. Here are some appropriate responses when a friend shares something tough:
Listen. Often just a listening ear is all a friend needs.
Pray for them. Remember, our Daddy in heaven is way more burdened by our friend’s problems than we are…and best of all, He has experienced similar sufferings so He can really empathize.
If you do feel you need to say something to your friend, you can say “I don’t know exactly what you are going through, but it sounds like you feel really _______ (hurt, angry, sad).” Or, “I’ve never been in that situation before, but Jesus really went through lots of junk here on this earth too so He understands…could I pray for you?” Or “I haven’t really been in the same situation, but I hope you know you can talk with me about it anytime if you just need a friend.”
Each of these responses express love and commitment without the listening friend feeling they have to take on the burden in order to support the one who is suffering.
4. It’s Your Choice
It is important for your child to learn at a young age that, while circumstances and feelings cannot always be controlled, the attitude can be.
When they are younger, they can be challenged to control their response to the situation around them. Talking through their disappointments, searching for the truth and good things in each situation, and having a positive outlook on life are good disciplines. Then, when they do start meeting harsher realities, they can still choose to take each day as it comes and face it with a positive and proactive attitude. This will help produce truly resilient kids.
5. Know Who You Are
We are created and loved by God Almighty Himself. That is what gives us our worth and that is the only thing that gives us our worth. He loves us enough that He died for us and He yearns for each of us to personally reach out to Him so that He an have an ongoing relationship with His Creation. (See more about the Christian Faith here.)
That means they are loved greatly! That means that their worth doesn’t depend on what is going on around them or in them or what others say! That is so very freeing!
We, as their caregivers while here on earth, need to exemplify God’s love for them—and their friends—and whisper these truths into their lives as often as we can.
As you can see, many of these steps can be taken long before the difficulties of peer relationships hit. If your own child is well-grounded in truth, love, thankfulness, knowing who they are and feeling empowered to choose their attitude, they are well-equipped to handle the turbulent years as they come.
And as I said earlier, the above tips are not intended to bring a child out of depression or to be a replacement for medical help when it’s required. Rather, we offer these ideas as ways build into our children the skills and beliefs that will help them weather that difficult season of adolescence so that they themselves are less likely to fall under the weight of stress and depression.