1. Sympathize and don’t try to “talk them out of” being sad
When you see your teenager is feeling sad, you may also feel sad and upset when you see their suffering. Because they can also react irritably when they feel sad, you may also feel frustrated. For these reasons, and because it is the most natural thing to do, the most common reaction is to try and cheer them up. We say things like “don’t feel sad”. “you’ll be okay” or “it’s not that bad”.
Even though these thoughts and sentiments always come from a good place, these kinds of comments can actually make your teenager feel even worse. What they sense is that you are trying to redirect them because what they are feeling is not acceptable in some way. This will lead them to feel like no one understands them or cares.
The aforementioned approach can be adapted by saying something like, “I’m sorry you are feeling disappointed now,” “I know you feel hopeless”, or “I don’t know exactly how to help you but I truly care that you are feeling sad right now.” whatever you do, skip the bit where you try and help them see the lesson they can learn in the situation — at least until a more suitable time.
2. Encourage Socialization
When we feel sad, one of the most immediate reactions is to withdraw from others. We have no interest in speaking, being close to people, or sharing our thoughts and opinions. The big problem is that being apart from people makes us feel even more despondent. Research has shown that maintaining a strong social connection is the key to lifting depression.
Sad teens will benefit greatly from communicating with adults and spending time in the company of their good friends and family. Not shut off from the world alone in their rooms. Obviously, they won’t feel like doing this themselves and this is why they may need some help and encouragement. This could mean organizing outings with their friends, asking their friends to call them up, and even facilitating time for them to spend in the company of their peers. This can be a difficult thing to do and it requires plenty of persistence and patience, but the longer a teenager is on their own, the worse they will feel.
3. Keep them Busy and Engaged
When feeling sad and troubled, the things that normally make us very happy and content can suddenly lose their value and enjoyment. This can lead to prolonged bouts of inactivity and this is certainly the case of a depressed teenager withdrawing into solitude. This is where you can provide support in the form of promoting activities that your teenager cares about, even if they don’t feel like doing these things at the moment.
For best results and a happy disposition, it is best if your teenager is actively engaged in an activity they particularly enjoy. This could be socializing with their friends, taking on a part-time job, playing games, and remaining physically active. Sometimes, the activities can be broken down into manageable chunks. Maybe the idea of playing an entire netball game is too daunting, but if you get them out there for the warmup, they may change their mind when they see what fun they are having.
No matter how it is accomplished, reducing the time spent in inactivity is a good way to adjust your teenager’s frame of mind for something a little more positive and uplifting.
4. Invite THEM to do problem solving and planning
It can be very tempting to start freely distributing your sound advice when you see that your teenager is feeling down, but this is not going to help. The problem is not that we are wrong, but that we can deny our child the great experience of “depression-lifting” and learning this trick for themselves. A better approach will be to spend about 80% of the same conversation asking them questions about how they feel and getting them to expound on their thoughts and frame of mind. Some good questions that will reveal much about the way they are feeling can include “have you considered what you will do next?”, “what would make you feel better?”, “what are the best options for you now?” or “what options do you have at this point?” For advice dealing with your teenager contact Clarity Clinic.
Invite your teen to put these ideas into writing and come up with a three-point plan on what they would like to do from here.
5. Keep boundaries in place
Just because your teenager is unhappy, this doesn’t give them license to be rude, treat others badly or show disrespect for others or other’s property. It will be important to maintain the same boundaries you have in place at all times during these dark times as well. But you will need to be EXTRA compassionate about the way you enforce these boundaries in this difficult time. While a little latitude is fine, you need to let them know in the most sensitive and caring terms that feeling bad is never a reason to treat others with less respect or hostility.