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Q: My 16-year-old daughter is experiencing feelings of depression. She cries a lot for no apparent reason.
She has expressed an interest in a boy at school, but the only time he seems to want to see her is after her curfew. She told me last night that sometimes on the weekends he comes over and they "make out" in his car. She has promised me she is not sexually active, and I believe her.
We have a fairly open relationship and eventually, with some encouragement from me, she tells me most of what is going on in her life. I'm not the best at giving advice, though. I don't know how to counsel her about boy problems, other than telling her it takes time. I am mostly worried about her crying. So far her grades at school have not been affected. She is an honors student and is very focused on college. I feel sure this is a typical teenage girl issue, but I would like some advice on how to help her with managing depression.
A: Other than her crying episodes, you don't mention any other indications that your daughter is suffering from clinical depression. Her emotions and hormones may be confusing and overwhelming her. I find it somewhat disturbing that this boy wants to see her only after her curfew. This puts her in a very difficult position and he knows that. He is, in effect, daring her to disobey you in order to be with him.
The relationship you have built with your daughter has allowed her to trust you. She may be afraid of what she has done -- or may do -- with this boy. She may be so smitten with him that she is crying because she fears that he will soon brush her off and not want to be seen with her. We are assuming here that her weeping is tied to her relationship with this boy. There may be other issues that are also causing her distress.
Ask her to sit next to you on the couch while you are watching TV together. Put your arm around her if she feels comfortable with your embrace. Click the TV off when the program is over and say something like, " You know I love you so much and I am sad because you seem so sad sometimes. I don't have all the answers, but you know I'm a good listener. What's going on inside that beautiful head of yours? Are you confused about something? Worried? I know it's hard to put feelings into words sometimes. Give it a try. Or if you're not up to it now, how about you and I talking about things over pancakes this weekend? I was your age once, and I haven't forgotten how it feels. I can't just pretend that I don't see you struggling with some things down deep inside you."
If your gentle, open-ended overtures and questions bring no immediate responses, you have still let your daughter know that you are there for her and that you know she is experiencing some emotional pain. If she begins to withdraw from her friends and the activities she has always enjoyed, or spends most of her time at home alone in her room not communicating with you, or exhibits other dramatic changes in her personality over a period of two weeks, consider professional counseling for her. We parents cannot allow our teens to continue behaving dramatically "unlike themselves" for weeks at a time and just call it teenage angst. So stay connected to your daughter, offering her continuing attention, encouragement, and the opportunity to let you give her a soft place to fall.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.