My daughter is 17 and gets upset or angry about the littlest things, especially with her 15 year old sister. Yesterday, it was because her sister, Kami, left her makeup in the car. Kylie was in the back seat and her sister was in the front. After Kylie got mad that she had to sit in the back, she starting yelling because Kami had left some of her makeup and an eyelash curler in the backseat. Another time recently, we were at our cabin at the lake and the day we were leaving, Kylie accused Kami of having on her shirt. They have the same shirt and Kami and I both thought it was hers. I sometimes put their initials on the tag of the clothes so I can tell who it belongs to when I'm doing laundry. I looked at the tag and told Kylie her initials were not on the tag. Kylie said she didn't believe me and grabbed Kami's shirt (halfway strangling her) and looked at the tag. Kylie's initials were on the underside of the tag. Kylie started screaming at Kami that she was a liar and a thief and she hated people who lied and stole. Kami said she really thought it was her shirt and didn't have anything to wear home and could she please borrow it. Kylie wouldn't let her and so I finally told Kami to take it off and she could wear one of my shirts home, which was way too big. It's really hard to go on vacation with Kylie because if she's not mad, she complains an awful lot. We tell her we're not going if she complains the whole time and she says she won't but usually does anyway. Any suggestions?
The behavior you described (e.g., “gets upset or angry about the littlest things”) sounds mostly like a teenager who is somewhat depressed. One key indicator of teen depression is bad mood swings and occasional melancholy.
The teen years are tough, but most adolescents balance the requisite angst with good friendships, success in school or outside activities, and the development of a strong sense of self. Occasional bad moods or acting out is to be expected, but depression is a bit more serious. Depression strikes adolescents (especially females) far more often than most people think. And although depression is highly treatable, experts say only 20% of depressed adolescents ever receive help.
Unlike grown-ups who have the ability to seek assistance on their own, adolescents usually must rely on moms and dads, educators, or other caregivers to recognize their suffering and get them the treatment they need. So, it will be important for you to learn what teen depression looks like and what to do if you spot the warning signs.
Adolescents face a host of pressures, from the changes of puberty to questions about who they are and where they fit in. The natural transition from childhood to adulthood can also bring parental conflict as adolescents start to assert their independence. With all this drama, it isn’t always easy to differentiate between depression and normal teenage moodiness.
Making things even more complicated, adolescents with depression do not necessarily appear sad, nor do they always withdraw from others. For some depressed adolescents, symptoms of irritability, aggression, and rage are more prominent.
Here are some tips to help:
1. The first thing you should do is to talk to your daughter about it (during a time when she is calm and somewhat rational). In a loving and non-judgmental way, share your concerns with your daughter. Let her know what specific signs of depression you’ve noticed and why they worry you. Then encourage her to open up about what she is going through.
2. Don’t give up if she shuts you out at first. Talking about depression can be very tough for adolescents. Be respectful of your daughter’s comfort level while still emphasizing your concern and willingness to listen.
3. Don’t try to talk her out of her depression, even if her feelings or concerns appear silly or irrational to you. Simply acknowledge the pain and sadness she is feeling. If you don’t, she will feel like you don’t take her emotions seriously.
4. Encourage your daughter to stay active. Exercise can go a long way toward relieving the symptoms of depression and anxiety, so find ways to incorporate it into your daughter’s day. Something as simple as walking the dog or going on a bike ride can be beneficial.
5. If your daughter claims nothing is wrong, but has no explanation for what is causing this moody behavior, you should trust your instincts. Remember that denial is a strong emotion. Furthermore, adolescents may not believe that what they’re experiencing is the result of depression. If you see depression’s warning signs, seek professional help. Neither you nor your daughter is qualified to either diagnosis depression or rule it out, so see a doctor or psychologist who can.
6. Isolation only makes depression worse, so encourage your daughter to see friends and praise efforts to socialize. Offer to take your daughter out with friends or suggest social activities that might be of interest, such as sports, after-school clubs, or an art class.
7. Just like you would if your daughter had a disease you knew very little about, read up on teen depression so that you can be your own “expert.” The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to help her. Encourage your daughter to learn more about depression as well. Reading up on their condition can help depressed adolescents realize that they’re not alone and give them a better understanding of what they’re going through.
8. Let your daughter know that you are there for her, fully and unconditionally. Hold back from asking a lot of questions (adolescents don’t like to feel patronized or crowded), but make it clear that you’re ready and willing to provide whatever support they need.
9. Living with a depressed teenager can be difficult and draining. At times, you may experience exhaustion, rejection, despair, aggravation, or any other number of negative emotions. During this trying time, it’s important to remember that your child is not being difficult on purpose. Your daughter is suffering, so do your best to be tolerant and understanding.
10. Track changes in your daughter’s condition, and call the doctor if depression symptoms seem to be getting worse.
11. Resist any urge to criticize or pass judgment once your daughter begins to talk. The important thing is that she is communicating. Avoid offering unsolicited advice or ultimatums as well.
12. Have plenty of patience. How? By taking care of your own mental health.
My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents