Caring for Your Struggling Teen


Prevalence rates of teen depression and anxiety have risen significantly in recent years. While the causes of the rise remains speculative, many parents are left unsure how to help their struggling teen.

First of all, know the signs of teen depression. If you are concerned that your teen may be struggling, try talking to them about your concerns at a time when you are both available and calm. Be open & curious about your teen’s experience, and share your concern from a place of love. Getting your teen to open up about their inner world can feel like pulling teeth, I get it. Your teen may not want to talk with you about their feelings, but be sure they are connected to some safe adult who they can share with - perhaps a professional therapist, teacher, school counselor, youth leader, mentor, family member, etc.

As I work with teens struggling with depression and anxiety, I’ve come across a few common pitfalls that well meaning parents tend to fall into. Here are a few responses to avoid that are not helpful:

  • “Be positive!” Many teens I work with report feeling pressured to put on a smiling face, to be positive, to have a good attitude, etc. when around their parents in an effort to overcome their depression. Depression is not a choice nor a lack of resiliency. Treatment may involve examining thought patterns, but this best left to a professional. Teens I work with that feel pressured to put on a smiling face and be positive often end up hiding their depression from family, not healing it.
  • “Snap out of it!” - Some parents will try to help their teen with depression by telling them to simply stop feeling that way. This may come across in subtle interactions, frustration from the parents about symptoms, threatening “If you don’t…. then…”, or even the teen getting in trouble for their depression. Remember that depression is not a choice. If it was, most people would choose to feel differently in a heartbeat.
  • “This will pass.” - While this is true, depressive episodes do not last forever, it can feel dismissive or minimizing to your teen’s experience in the moment. I’ve noticed that many parents seem to be more comfortable with the idea of situational or circumstantial depression rather than the possibility of chemical or enduring depression. Let your professional team work with your teen to determine the root of depression and instead aim to understand what it feels like for your child right now.
  • Ignoring it - Depression can be deadly if untreated and typically will need treatment to get better. If you see the signs or have concerns, please do not ignore it. Talk with your child.

Here’s what many of my teen clients report they do want from their parents:

  • Understanding - First and foremost, my clients talk about wanting their parents to trust their experience and try to understand where they are coming from, even if their parent doesn’t get it completely. Avoid responding with “I see, but…” and instead say things like “Thanks for sharing, can you tell me more about what that’s like for you?”
  • Responsiveness - If your child comes to you expressing their concern about depression, anxiety, or another mental health concern, work with them to get help promptly. It takes a great deal of courage to have that conversation, and acting promptly to get your teen help conveys that you hear them, care for them, and are taking them seriously.
  • Ask how you can support them - Rather than assuming you know how to help or what your child needs, ask what you can do to support their healing and what you have been doing that may be unhelpful. Be receptive and open hearted to feedback. Some teens may want you to ask how they’re doing, others want to have space, some may want you to help them notice when they are spiraling, others feel annoyed by that. Negotiate together how you can honor their needs and still be involved in their healing.

If you are concerned about your teen and want to get them in for treatment, or need some coaching about how to care for them well, reach out today.

The Power of Affirmations


We are often our worst critics, judging ourselves more harshly than we would others. It is often easier to extend grace and compassion to friends and family than it is to ourselves. The messages we tell ourselves often perpetuate lies that root from shame, our negative core beliefs. Things like “I’m not good enough. No one loves me. Everyone leaves. I can’t rely on other people.”, etc. Healing these negative core beliefs takes great intentionality. One great way is to practice affirmations.

Affirmations are simply positive truths about ourselves. An affirmation concisely speaks truth about who we are, challenging the negative core beliefs that may be loud in our head. These affirmations can cross out the messy first draft left behind by shame & replace it with a more true, more helpful draft.

Sometimes affirmations can be general, like “I am loved” or can be more specific to a situation, like “I can handle this”. Write your affirmations specifically to areas of yourself and your life that need that extra support and tune-up. Find yourself beating yourself up over small mistakes you make socially? Write affirmations about your belovedness, connectedness, support from others, etc. Working toward a big test? Write affirmations toward your preparation, your ability, your strength, your confidence. Struggling to hold onto hope in a difficult season? Write your affirmations about your confidence that you will be okay, you can handle this, you will get your happy ending.

I encourage you to give it a shot - even this weekend. Think about a difficult spot in your life now, it may be self-esteem, family, relationships, infertility, grief, loss, fear, lack of hope, a trial, etc.. Now challenge yourself to write 25 positive affirmations. Here are a few to get you started:

  • I am strong.
  • I am loved.
  • I am doing the best I can with the tools I have today.
  • I can handle this.
  • I can trust myself.
  • I am resilient.
  • I choose hope.
  • I will be okay.

When you have your affirmation list, commit to reading your affirmations out loud over yourself daily. You may even record yourself speaking these affirmations slowly, then listen to the recording as you fall asleep each night. Practicing affirmations may feel strange at first. We are often not used to speaking kindly to ourselves. Negative shame messages are usually deeply ingrained and can feel much louder than the soft whisper of a positive affirmation. Keep at it consistently, with practice and discipline the affirmations will eventually start to feel more true and take up more space in your head.

Building Resilience in Your Child

Watching your child endure disappointment, heartbreak, and setbacks is heart-wrenching. Perhaps watching them make mistakes, knowing disappointment is right around the corner, is even more challenging! Whether they are 5 or 25 years old, it can be tempting to step in to protect your child from pain. The extreme of this is what we call helicopter parents: hovering over their kids, intervening for them, making decisions for them, fighting their battles, and protecting them from consequences. While it can be tempting to fight those battles for your child, the best way to develop resilience in your child is to allow them to endure small hurts and disappointments. Children who rarely experience small hurts, boundaries, or consequences will struggle when bigger struggles inevitably cross their paths. As your children survive bumps along the way, they learn to tolerate distress, grow, and make better decisions in the future.

Part of your job as a parent is to equip your child to be a healthy, happy, and successful adult. One day your child will have to navigate conflict in their relationships, personal struggles, difficult coworkers, and financial choices all on their own. Moving out of the house does not magically bring about these life skills, they are learned and practiced at home throughout childhood. As parents, you can create safe boundaries within which your child can practice (and fail!) navigating those difficulties. Giving your child the freedom to make those decisions and deal with the consequences of their actions can be a huge learning opportunity and confidence builder.

Try to identify small, age-appropriate tasks that your child can learn to navigate on their own. For example, it may be appropriate to talk with your elementary aged child’s teacher about school concerns, but middle and high school aged kids can learn to talk to their teachers about homework and grade concerns by themselves. It is important that these tasks are small and the consequences are ones that your child can endure. Remember, it is also your job to protect your child from harm!

Whatever the issue, help your child brainstorm solutions, create a plan together, and help your child to execute that plan on their own. It is important that your child learn that their choices are connected to their consequences. Maybe it is the parent’s job to make their child’s lunch, but the child’s responsibility to remember to bring it with them. If they forget their lunch, they may have to skip lunch that day. Perhaps you and your middle school aged child make a plan to tackle a big project with you checking in daily -if your child chooses to procrastinate to the last minute, he or she may get a poor grade or be sleepy at school from staying up late to finish.

As your child grows they will be able to brainstorm, plan, and execute more and more on their own. Along the way, ask your child “What are you feeling? What do you need? How can I help you?” As your child learns to tolerate small setbacks, they will be better prepared to handle bigger disappointments down the road.

Girls & Sex

I recently read Peggy Orenstein’s book Girls & Sex then attended a workshop she hosted for Bay Area parents about the changing landscape of adolescent female sexuality. (Side note: This is exactly the type of hot pink, bold front cover books that therapists read on airplanes and in coffee shops that turn heads.) Professionally and personally, I have spent a lot of time with young women navigating the pressures, challenges, expectations, and relationships of the high school and college years.

With young girls I know personally, I see the type of selfies & photos that are posted online, and that photos that show more skin tend to get more likes & more comments. The same behavior is modeled from celebrities and marketed as some freedom of sexual expression. Peggy argues that this self-objectification does not reclaim power for females, it merely trades the appearance of sexiness for money, fame, or approval. It continues the idea that worth is received from the outside in, rather than than inside out. The sexual economy of the digital age is changing faster than we can catch up in conversations at home. What we see online is a symptom of a greater problem, the divorce between looking sexy versus experiencing sexuality.

Girls & Sex is a must read for parents of both girls & boys who live at home. Peggy reveals the ineffectiveness of our current sex education, both at home and in schools. Our system has woefully failed our young women in awareness of their own bodies, empowering them to voice their needs and desires, and preparing them for pleasure in relationships rather than focusing only on avoiding pain & risks. Without information, kids are turning to pornography as a sex education of sorts.

Peggy tackles the big issues like the effects of pornography, lacking definition of virginity, slut and prude shaming, the exponential rise in casual oral sex (female to male), young women becoming spectators rather than present to sexual experience, sexting, the problem of sexual assault, and the notion of hook-up culture. Peggy argues for intimate justice, the idea of reciprocal, mutually satisfying, joy filled, respectful and responsible sexual experiences.

In order to empower our young women for joy, equality, and agency in their sexuality, conversations must start at home -- and the earlier the better. Girls & Sex was at times an overwhelming read, but an essential pulse on the current landscape of female sexuality. Pick up your own copy today & discuss it with other parents and your own children.

For a teaser of some of Peggy’s work, read “Parents need to talk to their daughters about the joys of sex, not just the dangers”, an article posted in the Washington Post.