Sensitivity to rejection and failure, and difficulty in relationships are some of the symptoms of teen depression. Unsurprisingly, this can result in feeling unloved. As a parent, you can show your teen that they are worthy and loveable by giving them unconditional love.
It can be difficult to express to your teen that you love them unconditionally, especially if they are displaying common symptoms of depression such as irritability or even starting to use and abuse drugs or alcohol. Often a teen will be pushing you away, or behaving in a way that makes it difficult for you to express love, simply because they are struggling and don’t know how to reach out for help. You’re their parent, not their friend. Giving up on them—even if they are acting unpleasant or telling you to ‘leave them alone’—is not an option. You have a responsibility to your child. They need you more than they need anything else.
So under these circumstances, how can you show your teen that you love them unconditionally?
1.Be their cheerleader.
Take notice of your teen’s accomplishments, big or small. Show pride. This could be as simple as acknowledging your teen getting out of bed when they really don’t want to, or showing interest in a new, healthy activity or hobby. Smile when they enter a room, make them feel like you’re happy to see them. Avoid sarcasm, even if they’re dishing it to you. Of course, you don’t want to overdo it and come off as being fake. Keep the reaction in line with the accomplishment, with some being larger than others.
2. Listen before you speak.
Create a space where your teen feels heard. You might find it’s easier to talk to your teen when you’re driving in the car, for example. Remind your teen that they can tell you anything that’s on their mind, and make sure you always react with love and support first, saying things like “I’m glad you told me this” or “That is a great question” before addressing concerns. When you are together do your best to put down the devices and give your teen your full attention.
3. Push back against negative thoughts.
A depressed mind is going to seek out information that supports the depression. Your teen may ruminate on sad memories, be preoccupied with death, or be drawn to dark music, books, TV shows. Don’t feed the depression. Instead of commiserating with your teen, present the positive alternative:
If your teen says “Nothing ever works out for me”,
Say something like:
- “It might seem that way to you, but …
- I remember last month you got an A on your project.
- We just went on a really fun trip and you had a great time. Let’s look at the pictures.
- You’ve created some amazing art lately, let’s go and have it framed.
It can sometimes be hard to re-frame a negative situation, but don’t give up. Wallowing with your teen will not be helpful for them.
4. Look for opportunities to foster strong relationships with your teen.
When you have a strong relationship with your teen the odds are they will turn to you for help if they fall into trouble. You can increase the odds of success by also nurturing your teen’s positive relationships with other people in their life. A strong support network is an invaluable resource to anyone struggling with depression.
- Volunteer to drive. If your teen wants to go somewhere to meet a friend, offer to drive. This gives you a chance to meet the friend and perhaps encourage more outings down the road.
- Volunteer to host. Framing your home as a social hub makes it easier for your teen to see friends and be social. If your teen has friends over for pizza one weekend night, suggest that it become a recurring event.
- Make plans ahead of time. Organize fun activities for the weekend to encourage your teen to get out of bed and participate. Remind your teen about the activity during the week, so they have something to look forward to.
- Reach out to your extended family. Does your teen have a favourite aunt, uncle or cousin that seems to ‘get’ them? Invite those family members to your home, or ask them to take your teen for an outing like a hike, coffee or fishing trip. Outdoor activity can be very uplifting for people with depression.
5. Love yourself too.
Caring for a teen with depression can be incredibly difficult. It’s integral to make time for some self-care to keep your own energy and attitude up. Some ideas include:
- Getting a massage.
- Taking a hot bath.
- Writing in a journal.
- Going for a walk in nature.
- Practicing positive affirmations.
- Having coffee with a trusted friend.
Be authentic with yourself about what you’re feeling. Explore your emotions honestly. But then take some time to put yourself in your teen’s shoes. Try to remember what it was like to be a teenager and all of the feelings and thoughts you experienced. Question yourself about how you felt, or would have felt, if your parents were impatient or angry with you then. Think about the kind of parent you needed then, and strive to be that parent now for your teen.
When you love your teen for who they are, and not what you want them to be, they can better believe that you do love them unconditionally. Learn more about this by taking our Teen Depression course.