Nobody Leaves This Place Without Singing the Blues
One of my favorite pastimes while visiting my parents in Florida is sitting on the lanai and listening to my dad’s classic country station. Every singer uses melody and lyrics to tell his or her tragic real-life story of a cheating heart, lost love, a dysfunctional childhood or too many nights at the bar. Some use humor and some are downright tear-jerkers, but the musicians have something a lot of us regular folk don’t…an outlet for their emotions.
Just like Elisabeth Shue’s character, Chris Parker, in the YouTube clip from the movie “Adventures in Babysitting” (the original), many teens come into my office feeling like they can’t get out of situations without “singing the blues” or feeling “depressed”. And while depression is certainly prevalent among teens today, I like to educate adolescents, for a very practical reason, about the difference between depression in a clinical sense and the emotion of sadness. Sadness is a normal healthy part of being an adolescent and should be temporary. Changing hormones and brain “remodeling” which take place during this time create a brain/body environment that is often turbulent, yet expected. As parents, we want our children to learn to sit in their temporary emotions, feel them, and develop their own solutions to help pass through the emotions to the other side.
To differentiate between temporary emotions and depression in your teen, consider these tips first:
1) Make sure your teen is getting plenty of sleep. Although the adolescent circadian rhythm is different than an adults (teen bodies tend to prefer a later bedtime and a later wake up time), make sure they are getting enough consistent, quality sleep—preferably on a regular sleep-wake schedule 5-7 days a week.
2) Encourage healthy eating patterns and food choices. If teens learn to work in healthy foods in a manner that is sustainable for their schedules, they will be less apt to abandon the whole plan for quicker, less healthy meals.
3) Get your student moving! Whether it’s a walk with the dog or a bike ride around the block; physical exercise helps release tension and relieve stress. A physical household chore, such as vacuuming, is another way to get your teen moving and help them feel productive.
4) Talk to your teen—ask a few open-ended questions and then listen to the answers. Let your teen vent and share without offering solutions, advice, judgment or opinion. If you hear a thought process that indicates they are working to manage the stress and emotions, offer encouragement. If you hear they are overwhelmed and are making an overt or veiled plea for help, it may be time to step in.
Singing the blues is tough at any age, but if an adolescent is struggling with extended periods of sadness or can’t seem to work through a particular life challenge on her own, she may need professional help. As parents, we can help discern between depression and temporary emotions and guide our children as they learn to process feelings heading into adulthood.