Avoiding Teen Depression Starts in Middle School – and at Home
Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson
Health, Wellness, & Safety
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Depression is an increasing problem among teen-agers. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, as many as one in five children experience depression as teens. Depression interferes with social interaction and motivation for school. It’s something parents need to take seriously.
A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology suggests that the best time to pay attention to teen depression is before children enter their teen years. Parents and teachers of middle school students should actively teach skills of resilience and persistence.
By about age 9, many children adopt a “trait orientation” towards their abilities. This means they come to believe that they are either “good at” something or not and that there is nothing that can be done to change this trait. Younger children tend to have a more flexible “performance orientation” which leads them to believe that “practice makes perfect” and “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Parents can recapture this performance orientation for their middle school children by actively teaching problem solving skills.
The study, conducted by Dr. Cari McCarty of Seattle Children’s Hospital, found that middle school students who showed early signs of depression didn’t do so well with one-to-one therapeutic support as children did who were just taught positive thinking and coping skills.
“Basic problem solving skills are important: really thinking about a problem, taking a step back, generating multiple solutions, brainstorming options and then making a weighted decision about what they should do,” said McCarty.
Instead of clinging to the idea that “I’m going to give up, I’m no good at this, I’m not going to even try anymore,” kids can be taught to work out alternative ways to succeed and to keep trying.
Parents should avoid telling a child she’s just not good at something and also should avoid telling a child “I’m not good at that either.” Doing that just supports an ineffective trait orientation. Parents also should avoid blaming the teacher or coach or making other excuses for setbacks. Instead, parents should take a more matter-of-fact approach. Here’s how:
- Sympathize with a challenge. Recognize that a task is difficult but express confidence the child will figure something out.
- Provide guidance in coming up with possible solutions. Help a child to always have a back-up plan if her first idea doesn’t work out.
- Guide your child in analyzing what went wrong and figuring out how to achieve a better outcome next time.
- Praise for effort and persistence, not for achievement. The process of learning how to handle difficulties is far more important than easy success.
Dr. McCarty says, “Depression is preventable in that we can make a difference and we can mitigate some of the negative effects by intervening earlier with kids.”
Middle school is hard enough. Make sure your child has the tools to get through with confidence and to start his teen years with strength.
© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.