Tag Archive for depression

A Teen Epidemic & Containment

The epidemic of depression and suicide is spreading among our teens (13-18-years-old) like wildfire, especially among girls. Consider these statistics:

  • Suicide rate has increased 31% from 2010 to 2015 among teens. Even more disturbing, the suicide rate has increased 65% among adolescent girls over the same time period!
  • Symptoms of depression have increased 58% among girls from 2010 to 2015 (Excessive Screen Time Linked to Suicide Risk).

In searching for potential causes of this rapid increase in depression and suicidal rates among teens, researchers realized that cell phone ownership increased dramatically over the same time period. In 2012, about half of Americans owned a cell phone. By 2015, only 3 years later, 92% of teens and young adults owned one.  This does not mean that cell phones cause depression, but an association between does exist between the two. Interestingly, this same research does not reveal a link between homework load, academic pressure, or financial problems and the rapid rise in depression and suicidal rates among teens even though it looked for such links (The Risk of Teen Depression and Suicide is Linked to Smartphone Use, Study Says). On the other hand, the study did reveal that:

  • 13-18-year-olds who spend 3 or more hours a day on electronic devices are 35% more likely to exhibit a risk factor for suicide than those who spend only an hour or less on electronic devices,
  • 13-18-year-olds who spend 5 hours or more a day on electronic devices are 71% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide than those who spend only an hour on electronic devices.  
  • 48% of teens who spent 5 hours or more per day on electronic devices reported suicide-related behaviors compared to only 28% of teens who spent an hour or less on electronic devices. (OPEN LETTER FROM JANA PARTNERS AND CALSTRS TO APPLE INC.).

Fortunately, recognizing the link between electronic devices and depression and suicide offers us a way to contain the epidemic of depression and suicide rates among teens…not a complete cure, but a way to reduce the spread of an epidemic robbing us of our teens.  With that in mind, I offer four suggestions.

  1. Limit screen time to 2 hours per day or less. Our teens have not developed the skills to manage the addictive nature of electronic devices. (Perhaps many of us as adults have not developed those skills yet either.) Limiting screen-time to 2 hours per day keeps a teen in the area NOT associated with an increase in depressive symptoms or suicidal behaviors. This may involve teaching our teens to limit time spent on social media, turn off alerts, not spend down-time watching videos, limit video game time, and check social media less often. (For more, consider The Burden of a Smartphone.)
  2. Model limited use of electronic devices. We can’t expect our teens to use their devices less when they see us, their parents, wrapped up in our phones and devices. I thought I would never use electronic devices for 3 hours in a day. Surely, I was in the “safe zone.” Then Apple put “Screen Time” in the phone settings and my time usage started popping up. I discovered that I can easily average 3-4 hours per day on my smartphone! Clearly, I have to learn how to limit my time on the phone in order to model a healthy use of electronic devices to the children in my life. Do you?
  3. Encourage non-screen activities like sports, outdoor play and exercise, face-to-face interactions, church, non-screen hobbies, and family games. Teach your teens to have fun without screens. Let them learn by experience that face-to-face interactions are more enjoyable than social media, “real-life games” are more enjoyable than “virtual games,” and hands-on hobbies more enjoyable than screen-time games.
  4. Take a vacation from electronic devices. A study from UCLA noted that after only 5 days of a “device-free outdoor camp,” children performed better on tests for empathy than did a control group.  Another study showed that a month without Facebook led to greater happiness.  Take a vacation. Do it as a family and invest time previously spent on devices engaging in “real-time” interaction with one another and “real-life” experiences. (For more ideas, check out Don’t Let Them Take Over.)

We all have work to do in balancing our lives in a world where electronic devices impinge more and more on our daily lives. But the work we do to limit electronic devices in our lives and the lives our family members,’ could save a life…maybe even the life of your teen!

You Can Help Prevent Teen Suicide with These Simple Actions

I have bad news. Teen suicide rates are on the rise. In fact, suicide rates for teen girls hit a 40-year high in 2017 (Suicide Rate for Teen Girls Hits 40 Year High). Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens 12- to 19-years-old in 2006 (CDC: Mortality Among Teens Age 12-19 Years Old) and the second leading cause of death for those 10- to 24-years-old in 2015 (National Vital Statistics Report-see page 10 for figure). Many times depression or other mood disorders can be involved (Teen Suicide Statistics).  Overall, this is devastating information. Our young people are crying out in need of something.  But what do they need? A study presented at the 2017 American Public Health Association conference gives us a hint and tells us how we might stem the rising tide of teen suicide. They presented three conclusions from a 2012 US national Study of Parental Behaviors and Suicidal Feelings Among Adolescents that can cut suicide risk by up to 7 times (These Parenting Behaviours Cut Suicide Risk 7 Times).

  1. Tell your children and teens you are proud of them. Adolescents were five times more likely to have suicidal thoughts, seven times more likely to have a suicidal plan, and seven times more likely to attempt suicide when their parents rarely or never expressed pride in them. Adolescents need to know we take pride in their actions and their efforts. They need to know we take pride in them!
  2. Tell your children they have done a good job. This simple action was associated with a similar level of suicidal risk noted above. When we acknowledge a job well done we communicate our teen’s value. We inform them that we notice their and appreciate their work. We express the importance of their place and work in our home and world. We acknowledge their power to do things and the importance of that power in our lives.
  3. Help your children with their homework. Once again, helping with homework was associated with a similar level of suicidal risk noted in bullet #1. Helping our children and teens with homework communicates love. It lets them know we are interested in their world and committed to their growth. It gives us the opportunity to learn and grow with them, sharing in tasks together. It expresses how much we love them…enough to help them in the work of their daily world.

Once again, these three simple actions significantly reduce the risk of suicide in teens. Unfortunately, many teens do not receive these simple blessings from their parents. Make sure your teen does.

I would add two other important actions we can take to protect our teens from suicide.

  1. Get to know your teen. Learn about their world of friends and activities. Observe their moods and behaviors. If you see some change in their mood, if they appear depressed or isolated, seek help. Many teens who commit suicide have some type of mood disorder or change in peer relationships (Teen Suicide Statistics). Know you teen well enough to recognize the signs…and get help if they need it.
  2. Limit the use of electronic devices and encourage face-to-face interactions. In recent studies, Jean Twenge and colleagues identified that teens who spend five or more hours per day on devices are 71% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide. (The Risk of Teen Depression and Suicide is Linked to Smartphone Use) At the same time, getting rid of all devices did not help. Instead, the option resulting in the best mental health limited time on devices while encouraging face-to-face interactions.  (Read Just So You Know: Screen Time & Teen Happiness for more on this.)

Overall, these five actions are not hard. They do take time. They mean investing in the lives of our youth.  And that’s a great investment…after all they are amazing people with exciting futures who will build the tomorrow in which you and I grow!

The Burden of a Smartphone

It has happened to me several times now. I meet a child in fifth, sixth, or seventh grade who is exhausted, depressed, and ready for a rest.  After a few questions I discover they do not go to sleep until 2, 3, or even 4 o’clock in the morning! Why? Because they are “on their phone texting friends and playing games.” These experiences, combined with an exert (A Smartphone Will Change Your Child in Ways You Might Not Expect or Want) from Naomi Schaefer Riley’s new book Be the Parent: Stop Banning Seesaws and Start Banning Snapchat, increased my understanding of the smartphone as a burden for our children. Yes, giving a preteen or teen a smartphone places a burden on them. We, as parents, need to know that burden and establish parameters to teach them how to manage that burden. How is a smartphone a burden?

  • When children receive a smartphone they move into a culture of “24/7 popularity competition” in the words of Anderson Cooper in the documentary Being Thirteen. They begin to judge their popularity on likes and shares. They see posts in which their friends are having fun without them, maybe even during an activity to which they were not even invited. Selfies and group selfies taken during “fun activities” engaged in “without me” raise thoughts of “not being popular enough.” “Maybe they don’t even like me” and “why are they hanging out with them after what they did to me” are thoughts that cross many a preteen’s mind as they see pictures of their peers having fun without them. Loneliness increases. Feelings of isolation can even flood over many a teen in this situation.
  • At the same time, it becomes more difficult to avoid the drama of the preteen and teen life. “Who said what about whom,” “who does what,” and “who does what with whom” flood the digital airways, popping up on phones 24/7. It’s hard for your teen to go into their room and “get away from it all” because “it all” follows them wherever they take their phones.
  • This also means news is constantly at their fingertips. News of school shootings, Korean bomb threats, police brutality, catastrophic tsunamis in distant lands, and threats of political upheaval in countries they may have never heard of pop up on their phone at all hours of the day. And, little to no positive headlines pop up on the news.  Instead, a steady stream of random “breaking news” pops up with no coherent story behind them. This constant stream of disconnected catastrophes can overwhelm our children with information, increasing their level of anxiety.
  • This constant flow of information includes texts, snapchats, and instagram pics from friends as well. Our children feel obligated and pressured to respond to texts and other digital “pokes” that pop up on their phone. They fear their friends will accuse them of “ignoring” them if they do not answer immediately. And, they feel ignored if their friends do not respond to them immediately. Imagine the pressure of needed to respond to others every minute of every day no matter your current activity.

These are only four ways in which a smartphone becomes a burden that can increase our children’s sense of exhaustion, pressure, anxiety, and depression. It also raises concern for their safety from predators and bullies or the pressure to look “perfect” in the selfie. So, what’s a parent to do? Parents can help their children learn to manage this burden by establishing limits for cell phone usage. Here are a few ideas to help.

  1. Learn the phone settings. Determine which “pop ups” and notifications your child needs and which just cause more stress. Turn off unnecessary notifications.
  2. Do not let your child charge their phone in the bedroom. Instead, plug it in overnight to charge in the kitchen or in your bedroom. It is easier to not respond to a peer’s text because “my mom has the phone after 9” than ignoring it when it is charging next to “my bed.”
  3. During dinner and family meals enjoy one another’s company. No phones allowed. No texting. No checking email. No checking Facebook or Instagram. No reading “pop ups” and notifications. Put the phone someplace else and enjoy one another’s company.
  4. Enjoy one another during family outings too. No responding to texts. No checking Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media app. Leave the phones in a purse, backpack, or pocket and enjoy the company of the people you are with.
  5. Parents maintain access to the phones their children use. Our children may manage the phone very well but find themselves bullied through the phone or sent inappropriate pics through the phone. So, parents need to have full access. That means parents know the passwords for their children’s phones. And, parents check their children’s phones from time to time.  A good time to check the phone is when it is charging in the kitchen overnight. Any inappropriate materials will need to be discussed with the child who uses the phone.

What other limits might help ease the burden of a Smartphone?

Protect Your Child from Depression: The Final Chapter

This is the last blog in a series entitled “Protecting Your Child from Depression.” The last 3 blogs explained that teaching children their actions make a difference and teaching them to help other people builds a life filled with happiness. Teaching them to have hope for tomorrow gives them a future with happiness. Teaching them to express gratitude helps build a past filled with happiness and a present life built upon happiness. In this last segment, we will explore one final way to protect our child from depression. This skill helps transform a painful past into a joyous presence. With that in mind, the fifth and final way we will explore to protect your child from depression is forgiveness.
 
Teach your child to forgive. Imagine going through life with a heavy rock in one hand and a rope tied around the other wrist. The rock allows you to threaten revenge…after all, they deserve to be stoned. Unfortunately, that rock also weighs heavy on your arm. And, being tired from carrying that weight, you lash out at others who trigger that same anger. The rope extends from your wrist and binds you to the person who has hurt you in the past; it ties you to a painful past. And, the longer you hold the grudge, the tighter the rope becomes, separating you from other people and, ultimately, from yourself. It ties you to bitter memories from the past and can contribute to feelings of depression.
 
There is only one way to transform those memories… forgiveness. When we forgive those who have hurt us, we drop the rock of revenge and let go of the rope—we become free to live in the present and create happiness today.
 
How do we teach children to forgive? First you must model forgiveness in your own life. Let them see you forgive those who hurt you. What is involved in forgiving?
 
Objectively recall the hurt. Work to understand the one who hurt you. Give the gift of forgiveness. Remember a time that you were given the gift of forgiveness—this will help you offer the gift to others. Hold on to that forgiveness by finding the good that came out of the situation. Did you learn something? Did you become a stronger or more sensitive person? Be grateful for that “pearl in the mud.” Every time you think of that event, remember the “pearl” and the gift of forgiveness.
 
Going through the process of forgiveness transforms the bitter memories of anger into the personal freedom needed to pursue joy and contentment in your current life and relationships. Learning to leave bitterness in the past and to embrace the freedom to pursue joy and contentment in the present may help protect your child from depression.
 
That’s it–an “immunization” against depression. Protect your child from depression by teaching them:
·         That their present actions make a difference.
·         Helping people rather than focusing only on ourselves will fill our lives with joy.
·         Expressing gratitude builds up a bank account of happy memories to draw on from the past and helps us pay attention to the joys of today.
·         Realizing the hope for tomorrow builds an enticing future of joy that we can look forward to.
·         Forgiving those who have hurt us transforms a painful past into a happy presence.

Protect Your Child From Depression, Part 3

Children receive a series of immunizations to protect them from various diseases. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could immunize our children against depression? After all, a growing number of people struggle with depression…and, at a younger age. I realize there is no magic shot to prevent depression. Still, wouldn’t it be great to protect your child from depression? To find a way that even if they did experience depression, it would be less severe and shorter-lived?
 
Well, there may be a way to do just that! No, the answer is not a shot—it’s more of a lifestyle…skills you can teach your child to help protect them from depression. So far, we have explored how teaching our children 1) that their actions make a difference, 2) to help other people, and 3) to show gratitude can help protect them from depression. A fourth way to protect your child from depression is to…
 
Teach your children to have hope for tomorrow. When people experience depression, they become hopeless about the future. By teaching your child to have hope for tomorrow, you help create a mindset that can limit the severity and duration of depression.
 
What thought patterns create hope for tomorrow? Thought patterns that promote hope consider negative events to be 1) temporary, 2) caused by factors outside of the person’s character and ability, and are 3) confined to a specific situation. On the other hand, thought patterns that consider negative events to be permanent, caused by traits internal to the person, and permeating all of life promote feelings of despair.
 
How can a parent help a child develop this type of mindset? First, model a mindset of hope for your children. Listen to how you explain events.
    ·         Do you explain negative events as temporary or do you say things like, “This always happens to me?” “I’ll never get this right?” Train yourself to recognize that most events are temporary, not permanent
     ·         Do you explain difficult circumstances as a result of your personal inadequacy and faulty character or do you look for those factors over which you have some control? Do you actively seek a solution you can work for or just assume “nothing I can do about that? It’s just the way I am.” Teach yourself to find those factors over which you have control and take action rather than dwelling on those aspects over which you have no control.
     ·         Do you view negative situations as affecting your whole life (“You ruined my life;” “You just ruined my whole day.”) or do you realize an incident is an incident (“That statement hurt my feelings;” “That driver cut me off.”). Practice letting a mole hill be a mole hill rather than escalating it into a mountain.
 
Also, be careful how you speak to your child when he experiences a setback or when he misbehaves. Your child is listening to every word you say…even if they look like they are ignoring you. And, he will develop thought patterns of hope or despair based on your discipline, criticism, and passing suggestions.
     ·         If your child hears that his misbehavior or setback is permanent rather than temporary, he may despair and become more susceptible to depression. After all, “I’m no good; I’ll never amount to anything.”
     ·         If your child hears that his misbehavior is due to his character fault, what hope is there to change? After all, “I can’t control my temper, I’m just like so-and-so. I have an anger problem.” 
     ·         And, if your child hears that his failure is all-inclusive rather than specific, he may believe he is helpless. After all, “Everything I do is a disaster.” 
 
Discipline lovingly and carefully. Honor your child even in the midst of discipline by letting him know that “he can learn from his mistakes and do better” (internal control). Let him know that you “recognize his successes in other areas” (specific). Teach him that he can change his behavior and make a better choice next time (temporary). This will promote a mindset that looks at setbacks, mistakes, and even misbehavior as temporary, specific, and confined to a specific situation—a mindset of hope.

Protecting Your Child From Depression, Part 2

Children receive a series of immunizations to protect them from various diseases. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could immunize our children against depression? After all, a growing number of people struggle with depression…and, at a younger age. I realize there is no magic shot to prevent depression. Still, wouldn’t it be great to protect your children from depression? To find a way that even if they did experience depression, it would be less severe and shorter-lived?
 
Well, there may be a way to do just that! No, the answer is not a shot—it’s more of a lifestyle…skills you can teach your child to help protect them from depression. Last week we talked about how teaching children that their actions make a difference can help protect them from depression. Here are two more ways to protect your child from depression.
 
One, teach your children to help. People who experience depression ruminate about the negative in their lives. They become so absorbed in their own internal pain that they lose touch with what’s going on around them. “Getting out of themselves” and involved in the lives of people around them often helps them escape the self-absorption of depression.
 
So, to help protect your child from depression, teach them to reach out to others. Give them opportunities to help other people. This may be as simple as helping an elderly woman from the neighborhood rake leaves. There are many opportunities for children to serve—make it a family event. Help at a soup kitchen or go on a mission trip. Shovel snow for an elderly neighbor. Adopt a grandparent at a nursing home. Volunteer to help take a group of people with mental retardation on an outing or go to a local hospital and rock premature babies of mothers addicted to drugs.
 
These opportunities help children develop a desire to reach out to others and help. In addition, they create new ways of looking at the world around them, helping them to realize the good. One more thing, these activities help children learn that “having a treat” may give momentary happiness, but helping a person in need provides true gratification.
 
Two, teach your children gratitude. People who experience depression tend to overemphasize the bad events from their past and overlook the positive events. As a person dwells on the negative events from their life, the events seem to grow and overwhelm them. 
 
One way to counteract this is to develop a strong sense of gratitude in your life. Practicing gratitude helps a person to focus on the positive events in their life—which are much nicer to feel overwhelmed by. In addition, practicing gratitude helps a person grow more aware of the positive events in their past and experience greater contentment. So, teaching your children gratitude may help protect them from depression.
 
How can you teach gratitude? Spend time each evening talking with your children. Ask them what they enjoyed most during the day. Each night, make a list of five things for which they are thankful. Write these things in a “Thanks Journal” and review the journal every once in a while, reminiscing about the events and material blessings recorded. In addition, model a thankful attitude yourself. Thank other family members for doing things like cooking, cleaning, or laundry. Make it a family pursuit to thank each family member for at least one thing every day. Have fun with gratitude.

Protect Your Child From Depression-Part 1

Children receive a series of immunizations to protect them from diseases such as the measles, mumps, rubella, and polio. They even get vaccinated against the chicken pox. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could immunize our children against depression? After all, a growing number of people struggle with depression…and, at a younger age. I realize that depression is different than the measles, mumps, polio, or the chicken pox. And, I realize there is no magic shot to prevent depression. Still, wouldn’t it be great to protect your children from depression? To find a way that even if they did experience depression, it would be less severe and shorter-lived?
 
Well, there may be a way to do just that! No, the answer is not a shot—it’s more of a lifestyle. Of course, there is no way to guarantee that your child will never experience depression. However, there may be some skills you can teach your child to help protect them from depression.
 
Studies show that several factors contribute to depression. How a person explains things, how a person resolves negative experiences, and how a person interprets events around them affects their susceptibility to depression. In other words, the vaccine against depression is more of a lifestyle and a way of thinking than a shot. So, what can a parent teach their children to limit their chances of experiencing depression? What teaching ingredients make up a potential vaccine against depression? Over the next few weeks, I’d like to share a few ways to help prevent depression in your children.
 
First, teach your children that actions make a difference. Feelings of helplessness contribute to depression. People develop a sense of helplessness when they believe that their actions don’t matter. So, teach your children that actions make a difference. Knowing that their actions have an effect on the world around them can protect them from feeling helpless, and, as a result, protects them from depression. How can a parent do this?
 
When children are very young, play games in which you imitate their behavior. For instance, when they clap their hands, clap your hands, too. When they pat the table, pat the table as well. Your baby will giggle and enjoy the game…and, they will begin to learn that their behavior impacts the people around them. They learn that their parents respond to their actions.
 
As your children grow, let them play with toys that they can control, cause/effect toys—the drum that makes noise when they bang it, the figure that pops up when they push the button, or the blocks that fall down when they knock them over. Games such as chess or checkers accomplish similar results as they grow older. They learn that their choices and actions make a difference.
 
Give them choices throughout the day as well. When you offer a choice, make sure that both options offered are OK by you. For instance, ask them if they “want to take a bath before or after dinner”…or “wear their blue shirt or red shirt today.” As they make these choices, they discover that their decisions matter, their actions make a difference.
 
Another important area of teaching children that their actions make a difference is discipline. Let them experience the natural consequence of their actions—both the positive and the negative. Although they may not always like the consequences, they will more likely learn that their actions do make a difference!

This is the first step in protecting your child from depression. Teach them that their actions make a difference.