Khristine Heflin, LCSW-C
Adolescence is often a confusing time for both our young people and their caregivers. It is the stage where they are not quite adults but certainly don’t want to be treated like children. Adolescence can also be a difficult time as young people navigate peer relationships and discover their identity. Adolescence coupled with depression can intensify the existing communication challenges that parents and teens face. When working with parents, one of the most frequent questions asked is, “What are some ways that I can get through to my teen when they are struggling?” Here are some suggestions.
Prioritize Communication Time
Encourage check-ins routinely. When talking, carve out some one-on-one time where you are not going to be interrupted or distracted. Make sure that your young person has your complete attention. Put your phone down, silence it and encourage your teen to do the same. Scheduled time to talk signals to your teen that what they have to say is important and valuable and nothing else matters right now.
The most important aspect of getting young people to communicate is to be present. Our teens need our full attention. Be engaged by not only focusing on the topics but also how your teen feels. Don’t try to fix their problems for them. Sometimes when we try to fix our teens problems, we unintentionally minimize them. Instead, allow your teen to talk without interrupting and, once they are done, summarize what they have said to show your understanding.
Teens need to for us to “get it” especially when they are struggling with depressive symptoms. When they are communicating, try to relate. Imagine what it may be like for your teen. You can show empathy and understanding by saying things like “I can see how hard this is,” “I can totally get where you are coming from,” “I know things are confusing right now and I am here with you.” Even if you don’t fully understand what your teen is going through, use words to let them know that they are not alone. Modeling perspective-sharing is also helpful for when your teen needs to also be understanding of your rules and position on things like curfew, schooling, and safety.
Teens with depression often struggle with negative, critical thinking and this negative self-talk contributes to low self-worth. Depressed teens may also feel like failures and have feelings of shame or guilt. It is important when communicating that we avoid any judgment or lecturing. Avoiding judgement allows for our teens to be more vulnerable and open about what they are going through. Avoiding judgment and lecturing reinforces the message that your young person is more than enough.
Strengthening communication is a great tool to learn about and show support to your teen who may be experiencing a depressive episode. Practicing these simple steps with your child will create an environment where teens are more open to sharing their thoughts and feelings.
Khristine Heflin is a child and adolescent therapist at a community practice in Largo, MD. Ms. Heflin is a licensed clinical social worker and has been practicing since 2006.
- Watch our webinars on teen mental health and communication.
- Share your personal story of supporting a teen who has depression by filling out our form.
- Read Ms. Heflin’s blog on unique challenges for African Americans with mental health conditions.