Kenyans were horrified to receive news of a dormitory fire in a girls’ boarding school that resulted in loss of life and injuries to students. What has been even more shocking is the unconfirmed reports that the fire was not an accident by an act of arson most likely from a disturbed student, who had already attempted suicide twice.
It is widely believed that parenting teenagers is difficult, with many parents feeling at their wits end in their dealings with their teenage children. Being overworked, financial difficulties, relationship problems and other challenges of life further complicate parents’ situations. It is easy for a parent to fail to notice that a teen is undergoing some challenges.
Having battled depression myself and also being a mother who has gone through the struggles of bringing up a depressed teenager, I would like to share some information that could help other parents. A depressed teen will portray some behaviors that go beyond the normal teenage problems which can be attributed to hormonal changes. Teen depression can run in families so the depressed teen might have other close family members who have had depression.
There is no specific test to detect depression so close family members, friends, classmates and teachers can help to identify that the individual’s behavior and temperament have changed.
There are telltale signs such as being pessimistic about life, talking as if no one cares, speaking about dying, using alcohol or drugs as an escape from mental anguish and giving up in life. Here is a list to guide people who deal with teenagers to know when to seek help. A depressed teen will portray some or all of them.
Signs and Symptoms of Teen Depression
* Apathy or indifference
* Withdrawal from people in her life such as family and friends, and spending a lot of time locked up in her room
* Lack of motivation
· * Loss of interest in activities she previously enjoyed
· * Sleeping excessively (some stay awake at night and sleep during the day)
· * Changes in eating habits
· * Frequent complaints of bodily aches such as headaches and stomachache
· * Irresponsible behavior such as failing to do their obligations, skipping classes, chronic lateness
· * Rudeness, rebellious behavior or engaging in criminal activities such as stealing
· * Frequent sadness which could be accompanied with crying for no apparent reason, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness and excessive feelings of guilt
· * Memory loss/forgetfulness
· * Sudden changes in weight (weight loss or weight gain)
· * Preoccupation with death and dying
· * Drop in academic performance
· * Use of alcohol or drugs
· * Engaging in risky sexual behavior
· * Self-harm or attempted suicide
Teen depression can co-exist with other psychiatric disorders such as anxiety or substance abuse. It could also be masking more severe conditions such as bipolar disorder.
Many teenagers spend a lot of time away from home in boarding schools. Schools hardly have the capacity to handle such cases, with disturbed teenagers often punished, suspended or expelled from school. It is important for parents to be well equipped to know when their teenagers need help.
What Causes Teen Depression and What Can Parents Do To Protect Their Children?
Stressful life situations such as family difficulties (changes in finances as happens when a parent loses a job or marriage breaks), having a close family member who is seriously ill or death in the family can push a teenager to depression.
Perceived failure especially in a family or school where there is overemphasis on academic grades or being unfairly compared with another sibling who is performing better could contribute to depression. Desperation and hopelessness that accompany depression can push a teen to suicide.
Childhood abuse or trauma predisposes children to depression later in life, which could happen during teenage. Protect your children from abuse right from birth. Be observant if you leave your small children with caregivers. Help children cope with traumatic events such as the death of a loved one. Seek professional help for them if necessary.
Depression sometimes runs in families so if you have close family members who have had depression or who committed suicide, be extra supportive of your children from a young age. Avoid using negative messages to get children to do what you want, but reinforce of positive behavior instead.
Parenting teenagers can be very challenging because many of them are difficult to handle, leading to conflicts with parents. Much as teenagers can push a parent to the wall, it is important to learn to correct them without embarrassing them or wounding their spirit.
Nurture healthy communication such that the teenagers are not only listened to but they are assured that they are loved. They are struggling with change in hormones that they do not understand, a burden to them already. Others have just joined boarding school and could be victims of bullying and harassment from older students. Be there for them.
Avoid over controlling teenagers and being overprotective in an effort to ensure that they do not make mistakes. Making decisions for them can make them feel helpless, angry and less confident.
Give them breathing space and learn to negotiate things with them rather than always saying ‘no’ to anything that you do not agree with. They are your children but they are individuals just like you are. They do not have to share your viewpoints in everything. Effective communication is two way so don’t do all the talking expecting your teen to do all the listening.
Do not compare children. Some children have more struggles than others; some have a learning disability, are slow learners or have a difficult temperament. Be supportive of a child who is struggling and avoid harsh criticisms. The difficulties are not a choice.
Life is challenging and you have all manner of struggles from financial problems to politics, a difficult boss and much more. Incorporate stress coping mechanisms into your life so that you do not end up exploding on your teenagers when they upset you. Learn how to maintain your cool when your teens make mistakes.
Dumping your anger on them should not happen as it can do great damage. Avoid provoking your teen to wrath through harsh words, belittling, embarrassment and bruising attacks. Deal with your anger and frustrations in private then address issues with your teen when you are sober and composed.
Do not leave the work of parenting your teen to teachers. Their work is to focus on academics and their work load leaves them little room to play other roles in the lives of students. Make sure to be spending time with your teen during school holidays and to also be a good listener.
Have activities that make you and your teen work together and you will be able to observe a lot of things. Your teen might express concern about the school or something else like a relative who lives with the family or a neighbor. Do not be quick to dismiss those concerns but listen and genuinely care. Use your discretion to decide if the teen needs to be transferred from a school.
Never ignore any symptoms that could suggest that your teen is depressed. Teen depression needs to be adequately treated otherwise it could predispose the individual to later episodes of depression. Depression cannot be wished away and symptoms rarely just go away without intervention. Untreated depression could lead to suicide or other complications such as engaging in criminal activities.
This article is written by Susan Catherine Keter
Financial Independence Africa