My Teen Seems Depressed
My Teen Seems Depressed
Dear Tacit,

My teen seems depressed.  How can I help him?  He spends a lot of time alone in his room and doesn’t want to talk to me.

Signed Worried Mom

Dear Worried Mom,

It can be really difficult to know if the isolating behaviours and the moody attitude emanating from your teen are a natural part of his current stage of development, or warning signs of a more serious problem.  This is every parent’s nightmare – the idea that we might miss the signs for help and something devastating ends up happening.  But neither do we want to be too interfering and in-their-faces.  Our teens need room to manage their emotional ups and downs on their own, if they are to be successful in developing the resiliency that creates healthy self esteem.

During the teen years, our kids are trying to figure out who they really are.  They compare themselves to their friends.  They explore the possibilities of what they are capable of.  They make mistakes and fail, a lot. And sometimes they see all of these moments not as solid ways of learning more about themselves, but as weaknesses and inabilities (their confidence can be hit hard).  They challenge the beliefs and values that they once accepted as truth as they try to determine what they think is right/wrong or important in life.  And they test themselves.

They do all of these things while their brains are still underdeveloped (the human brain doesn’t finish maturing and growing until age 25-29). So it’s kind of like they have one hand tried behind their backs, but they want and expect themselves to be fully capable in every way.  It’s a period full of painful frustration, confusion, and doubt, for the teen and the parents alike.  But there are some things you can do to help.

You know your teen best.  Be on the lookout for any big changes in his personality and routine that are ongoing for more than a couple of days.  Some red flags to notice might include: isolating behaviours (from family and/or friends or activities he normally enjoys); low energy or quietness (when that’s not a norm); signs of despair (crying, comments that indicate he feels unworthy, etc); changes in eating and/or sleeping patterns; poor school performance; loss of a job; substance misuse; or any self-harming or high-risk behaviours.

Stay connected to your teen, whether he seems to want it or not.  Be willing to do activities that he likes (even if you aren’t much of a fan) so you can spend time together.  Eat meals with your teen (at least once a day).  Watch shows or play video/board games as a family.  Take him grocery shopping with you, if that’s the only time you are both free.

Find time to have real conversations with your teen, every single day.  These chats do not always have to be about your teen directly (he might feel you are being too nosey if you are questioning him about everything he is thinking, feeling or doing).  Ask him about how his friends’ lives are going; or play a “what-if” game and ask your teen how he would handle each possible situation.

Be sure to emphasize to your son the strengths and capabilities you see in him (he will need to hear this a lot, to counter the criticism and harshness he may be thinking about himself).  Help him understand how the failures/set backs in his life are helpful and wisdom producing, so he can embrace these moments instead of define himself by them.

Build a network of appropriate adults around your teen, so it’s not just your eyes watching him, and it’s not just your words trying to guide him.  He will need more than just mom or dad to help him master these transformative years with success and surety about who he is meant to be.

Teach your teen about healthy self care and balance.  Help him make choices that will prevent regular moments of anxiety and depression from developing into problematic issues.  Make sure he gets enough sleep, eats regularly, drinks lots of water and is active every day.  Teach him to self reflect.  And help him learn how to be aware of his emotions and to know how to manage them in healthy ways (to release them – not avoid them or become overwhelmed).

By connecting and communicating with your teen every day, you will be able to determine whether the low moods or esteem issues that he experiences are just temporary setbacks, or the result of more deeply damaging patterns.  Your son needs you to be there for him, even when he doesn’t quite realize he might need the help.  He won’t always need advice – he may just need validation and an understanding shoulder to lean on.  It can be hard to not always want to share wisdom or make suggestions, when you are talking with him (it’s easier if he is the one doing most of the talking). But he needs to learn to trust himself.

And, if you feel your son is struggling, help him reach out for professional help (counsellor/therapist, family dr, etc).  It can be hard for a teen to ask for support.  They might feel embarrassed or misunderstood – they are often worried about being judged.  And it can be hard for a teen to see how talking about their problems might make things better, especially if they aren’t sure how to explain what it is that they are feeling.  But the professionals will know how to help your son figure out his feelings in a way that empowers and strengthens him.

Take care!

Have a question? Please feel free to reach out to us at Your answer will be provided confidentially. 

Want to start your counselling today?
Make an Appointment

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Tacit Knowledge Logo

Sign Up For Our Newsletter