teen who is sad


The teen years in parenting are both rewarding and challenging. Some of the challenges of the teen years for parents is that the teen often wants to be in their room by themself and is seeking more and more of their independence. When kids are little, they are highly dependent on the parent to help and even rescue them in many ways. As kids grow, the role of the parent shifts into more of a support role as they often want and need to navigate problems on their own. When trying to figure out if your teen has depression and how to help as their parent, these factors can be complicated and stressful. 

 Here are some signs to look out for when your teen is depressed:

  • Have they been sad or irritable most of the day, most days in a week for at least two weeks?
  • Have they lost interest in things that they used to really enjoy?
  • Have their eating or sleeping habits changed?
  • Do they have very little energy, very little motivation to do much of anything?
  • Are they feeling worthless, hopeless about their future, or guilty about things that aren’t their fault?
  • Have their grades dropped, or are they finding it difficult to concentrate?
  • Have they had thoughts of suicide? If so it’s crucial you have them evaluated by a mental health professional immediately. If the thoughts are really serious and there is imminent threat, you will need to take them to an ER.

If your teen is showing more than three of these signs, they may have depression and it is important that they be evaluated by a mental health professional. Parents often want to fix their teens issues and they catch themselves wishing they had a magic wand to make it all better. This comes from a place of love and care. While you can’t take it away or fix it, as their parent you can support your teen through your loving presence in their life. Here are a few ways you can support your teen:

Give empathy and understanding.

Whether your teen is thriving or struggling the most important work as a parent is strengthening your relationship with your teen. Remember what it is like to be a teen. What did you struggle with? What did you feel like your parents did not understand? What were you insecure about? Then, try to imagine what it is like to be in your teen’s shoes.

Parents who have a teen experiencing depression often feel frustrated that they seem down and irritable a lot of the time and are not doing much of anything to help themselves. Parents need to understand and get curious about how the teen is viewing or experiencing their world.  Perhaps, in their perspective there isn’t much in their life that is making them happy or maybe something extremely disappointing has happened to them. It makes sense that they could start avoiding things they used to enjoy and retreat to their room if they were experiencing these things. Depression affects motivation, energy levels and mood so even the smallest things become more difficult. 

Show empathy and understanding by validating their feelings. This does not mean you are condoning their unhealthy behavior. The only way to help a teen is to first connect with them and help them feel that it is safe to talk more about what is going on.  For example, you could say, “It seems like you have been feeling sad lately. I’ve noticed you don’t want to do fun things as much anymore. Can you tell me more about how you been feeling?” Be clear that you want to listen and understand what is going on for them without trying to problem solve at all.  Use reflective listening, showing that you understand what they are saying. Simply say back what you heard such as, “I hear that your heart is hurting right now.” 

Be compassionately curious. Ask them open ended questions that check in on what they might be feeling, thinking, behaviors you are noticing or experiences they have had. Do this in a way that is not emotionally charged but very calm and collected. Teens are very sensitive to a parent being critical and often worry that others are judging them. The parent must be very mindful to suspend their first judgements, their own anxieties, and the urge to solve the teen’s problems. The worst part of any emotional pain is feeling like you are alone in that pain and that other’s do not understand. By listening without judgement, being compassionately curious and showing your teen that you care and understand, they will be more able to see you as their helper and support. Next, is to be patient and available so that they can turn to you when they feel ready to talk. 

Give your teenager opportunities to do activities without being critical of them. Instead of saying, “Sweetie, you should really get up and do something. How about calling an old friend?” you might say, “I’m going to the Target to do an errand. Let me know if you want to come with me, and maybe we can get lunch together.”

Set aside time throughout the week where you have an opportunity to connect face to face with your teen without distractions or trying to multi-task. Dedicated time to connect together, without forcing the conversation a certain way, can go a long way in reducing your teen’s depression. It helps them know that they are not alone and that they have your support, which makes all the difference in recovery.

Does all of this just seem like you are not doing enough as a parent? Some parents might feel this way if they tend to be “doers”. Parents, it is so important to balance the “being and the doing”. Being present for your teen in a supportive, and not a controlling way, and being able to communicate your acceptance is exactly what your child needs from you right now. This is the roadmap for strengthening your relationship in an active way. 

Accentuate the positive.

When a teen is depressed they are often locked into a negative mindset. They may interpret things from that negative mindset that sometimes make communication difficult and also decreases their self-esteem. One helpful thing parents can do is to point out the positive things your teen does, and do it often. For example you could say, “You put effort into going to school today even though your energy is so low. I know that took a lot of effort today.”  You might ask, well, isn’t that what they should be doing anyway? Think about how you feel when you get praise from your boss at work. We all get a mood boost and value boost when we are appreciated and recognized for doing well or putting effort into something, even if it is expected of us. Accentuating the positive in this way can help break up the negative mindset and remind your teen that you are their ally.

Notice what type of communication you are having with your teen on a daily basis; how many negative things have you said vs how many positive things you have said. How many times have you tried to fix them or their problems? A rule of thumb with a depressed teen is that positive communication should far outweigh the negative. Did you know that or every 1 negative thing that is said to someone, 5 more positive things need to be said to balance it out? Use this ratio to be mindfully communicating in a positive way with your teen. Resist mentioning that you are disappointed that they aren’t hanging out with friends, cleaning their room, or playing their instrument. Remember that they don’t want to feel this way and if they could get better instantly they would.  

Other ways you can use positive communication with your teen is to point out how you see them caring for themselves, positive ways they are communicating with others, responsibilities they are fulfilling, ways they are interacting with the family, talents and strengths they are displaying and reasons you are proud of them. Even if they don’t respond, inwardly they will appreciate that you noticed and that will draw you closer together. 

Get Active.

Create opportunities that they can say yes to or help them accomplish tasks that are challenging for them by doing it together. One way to reengage your teen is to give opportunities to get involved in regularly scheduled activities that involve their interests and talents such as sports or art. They may struggle with motivation and interest at the beginning but as they continue this consistent schedule they should start feeling more excited and motivated. These types of activities can also be a self esteem boost! 

Encourage your teen to volunteer. Helping others and making a difference in the community is a powerful antidepressant and helps improve one’s self-worth. Brainstorm various causes and organizations that your teen would be interested or gives them a sense of purpose. Bonus points for volunteering as a family, which can be a powerful and positive bonding experience. 

Regular exercise makes a difference. Exercise helps ease depression symptoms by releasing feel-good endorphins, enhancing your sense of well-being. It can also help take your mind off of negative thoughts that exacerbate depression. Exercise, when it becomes a consistent part of one’s life, can also develop into a positive coping skill to help with low-self esteem and stress.

The trouble with depression is that it is difficult to find the motivation and energy to get started with exercise. One way parents can help teens with this is together create a activity schedule for their week. This can be done by starting small such as exercising for 10 minutes a day and doing it together, regardless of mood, it is simply something in the schedule that is completed. Soon the motivation and energy will start to come back and that is when that goal can increase to 15 or 20 minutes and moving up with a goal of 1 hour a day. Remember to make it something the teen wants to do and try to make it fun or relaxing such as a nature walk, playing with the dog in the backyard, or shooting hoops. 

Help Your Teen Get Therapy.

If offered, many depressed teens will want to go to therapy and others will be quite resistant. Your job is not to force it but to open up the door and create the opportunity for support. You may say something like, “I know you are going through a rough time, and I have some thoughts on what could help. Let me know, if you would like me to share the ideas with you. You are not alone in this, I care about you”. Ask your teen if they believe something could really help them and let them know you are open to suggestions. You might be surprised by their answer. 

Your teen is depressed which means they will be irritable towards you and will even try to push you away. It is important for you to respect their need for space and not be too pushy. You can let them know that you will give them more space, and that you want to be there for them to listen or problem solve together, when they are ready. 

If they do come back to you saying that they want help, be prepared with a few options in regards to therapists you think could be a good fit. Empower them to choose the one they think they would be most comfortable with. The therapeutic relationship is one of the most important aspects to successful outcomes of therapy so it is very important to give your teen an opportunity to have ownership in their treatment choices. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an effective therapy modality for treating teens with depression. To learn more about getting treatment for your teen at Resilience Therapy, please schedule a free 15-minute consultation with a therapist who cares and can help! 









The way in which a child grieves and their understanding of death is influenced by their age and developmental level. Understanding your child’s developmental stage can help you know how to talk to your child about their grief.


Ages 2-4: Children at this age think in the present moment, therefore their grief is in the present moment. They do not think death is permanent or forever. Children at this age are very concrete thinkers and cannot understand abstract ideas like death. Their best understanding of death can be explained in what happens to the body. For example, “Grandpa died. His heart stopped beating so his body couldn’t work anymore. He died.”


Ages 5-7: Children at this age begin to understand connections and are interested in the process. They may begin to ask questions like “how” and “why” their special person died as they begin to gain a basic understanding of the death. They are still concrete thinkers at this age. You could say, “Grandpa died because he had problems with his heart that could not be fixed by medicine or doctors. His heart stopped working and he died.”


Ages 8-11: Children at this age understand the finality of death. Children are detail oriented at this age and may ask very specific questions about the death. They may begin to show more emotions when processing their grief. They may ask, “What was the problem with Grandpa’s heart?” As a parent you want to answer honestly and basically. “His heart became too weak and could not deliver as much blood to the body as it should and then his body couldn’t do all of its important jobs to stay alive.”


Ages 12-18: Children are developing their identity and self-esteem at this age. They understand and can conceptualize death. Teens understand their world from an egocentric perspective. Often, they feel that no one understands what they are going through. They may look to peers or people outside of their family for support as they process their grief. Be honest about the death as this builds trust between the parent and teen. Offer to answer any questions they have and emotional support if and when they need it. 


Your child’s grief will shift over time as they enter into different developmental stages. It is very normal for grief to surge during these developmental shifts. This occurs because your child can process death using increased levels of abstract thinking and with more complex emotions. 


There are many ways you can support your child through these developmental stages. 

  • Encourage your child to ask questions and let your child know that they can ask you anything. 
  • Be truthful and open with your child and build trust and safety with them. 
  • Find a special way to remember the special person with your child. 
  • Offer to connect them with child and teen therapy services for additional support as they navigate their grief and developmental changes.



Children need connectedness, structure, consistency and examples. When we can fulfill their basic needs, we give children the opportunity to flourish. 



Children need to feel connected to their parents and caregivers. From a child’s perspective this comes through spending quality time together by talking together, sharing in the child’s hobbies/talents, cuddles, playing with toys and games that the child finds fun. You may not have a full two hour block to just sit and play with your child, even if you wish you did. That is ok. Quality time does not mean it has to be a very long time. It could be 15 minutes of looking into your child’s eyes, listening to what they are saying, and reflecting that back. It could be five minutes of just cuddle time on your lap when you get home from work, before you jump into fixing dinner. It could be weekly Friday Family Fun Nights, when phones are put away and everyone gathers around a board game to play. How we speak to our children can create connectedness or distance in the relationship. Use strengths-based language with your child that focuses on what they are doing well and the positive character traits they possess. Speak to them with patience, kindness and respect and surely they will model the same type of communication with others. There is nothing more important in parenting than developing a reliable, trusting, and loving relationship with your child; it is more important than following the rules or going to bed on time. If you are connecting with your child regularly, both of your basic core needs of connection will be satisfied and you both will be able to rise up to daily responsibilities a whole lot better.


Provide Structure

Kids need to be taught through time and experience how to interact with themselves and others in a variety of environments and circumstances. We should not expect kids to know how to behave from the time they are born and on. They don’t know the rules yet and it is our job and privilege to teach them, correct them, and model expected behavior. Remember, when managing difficult behaviors, first validate the child’s feelings and needs with empathy and unconditional love. Help them cope through their emotions. Then, teach them helpful and acceptable ways they can communicate their needs, appropriately interact with their environment and/or problem solve. Rules should be based on family values and this connection between rules and values should be communicated to the child repeatedly. For example, “We don’t hit brother when we are angry. Everyone needs to feel safe here and we believe in being kind to ourselves and others. Let’s find another way you can let out your anger that is safe and does not hurt anyone or anything.” There is an important WHY and significance to the rules you are teaching your child. These valuable moments of teaching children appropriate ways of managing themselves and the world around them are instilling life skills that will enable them to have healthy relationships with themselves and others over their lifespan. 


In addition to teaching rules and boundaries, kids thrive in routine and a predictable schedule. It helps kids to feel safe and secure when they know when they can expect their next meal or how they will be put to bed each night. A good bedtime routine helps promote a healthy sleep cycle by cueing sleepiness similarly each night.  A consistent schedule also helps to reduce conflict. Instead of having a power struggle with your child that it is time to transition from play time to lunch time, it is just the schedule that is being implemented consistently each day; it is simply just what we do. The schedule also allows for being able to predictably look forward to things the child enjoys. An example of this is, “I know you’re sad to stop playing right now because we were having so much fun. But you know this is now the time we eat lunch. I’m so excited to play with you more after your nap this afternoon.” Your child knows this is true because that routine and schedule happened yesterday and the day before. To add, schedule and routine help establish healthy habits (ie. brush teeth, wash face, wind down at night with a book before bed) that will create a foundation for your child to build on as they become adults and need self care to help manage stress. There are many benefits to creating a consistent and reliable schedule for your child including helping your child feel safe and secure, reducing conflict and establishing healthy habits. 


Be an Example

The daily intentionality and energy it takes to provide consistent teaching and modeling of expected behavior based on family values is a big commitment, but it is absolutely WORTH IT. Children are constantly watching and listening to how parents behave. Parents often worry, “What if I can’t be a perfect example to my kids all the time?” It is important for parents to remember that no person is perfect, not a child, not an adult. What matters most is what we do with our mistakes, how we learn and grow from them. We can model this to our children by making our best effort to be an example of the values we are instilling in them and then when we make a mistake or fall short we can acknowledge it, communicate through it and reflect on how we might react differently next time or ways we may need to make amends. For example, “I know mommy tells you that we do not yell at each other when we are angry, but tonight mommy yelled and broke that rule. Mommies have big feelings too just like kids do and sometimes mommies can make mistakes. I want you to know that I should not have yelled at you. I am sorry for yelling at you and hurting your feelings. Will you please forgive me? Next time I am too angry and feel like yelling I am going to walk away and take some deep breaths.” We want our children to know there is room for them to make mistakes and owning our own is the best way to model the growth mindset. 


How will you connect with your child today? What is a structure you could put in place that may help smooth daily transitions? What is one way you want to be a positive example to your children this week?


 Be kind to yourself as a parent, you are doing a great job! 

Raising kids can be hard. We all need a team of support in our community and resources to help us as parents. We are here to support you and your child through our therapy services. In addition, books are a great parenting resource and we wanted to share some great ones that we often recommend to parents. If you chose to purchase one of the items featured in this post, we may receive a small commission for it.


Book on Emotion Regulation 



Children’s Books for Feelings Identification



Children’s Books to help with Separation Anxiety




Book to help with Positive Self Talk and Resilience



Self Compassion/ Mindfulness





General Anxiety



Personal Safety Skills



Child Grief


Adult Grief



Books on Parenting



Books on Divorce




Oftentimes in parenting, when we get stuck, we feel like we need to learn something NEW. In reality, it is more common that we need to go back to basics. Knowing and understanding children’s basic needs is the foundation that we always need to start with when it comes to building relationships with and raising children. You may not always be able to perfectly meet these needs but we can continue to develop an understanding of their needs as your children continue to grow and change developmentally. Often, when a child is displaying difficult behaviors there is an underlying need driving the behavior. 

Children’s basic needs include love, safety and acceptance and should be at the heart of family life. It may look different from child to child in how they receive or express these needs. As caregivers, we can continue to get curious and learn about how love, safety and acceptance needs are unique to each child that is in our care. 

As we navigate how to help our children through difficulties, it is helpful to keep in mind the child’s developmental stage and capabilities so that we do not expect more than they are capable of developmentally, and therefore as caregivers can provide acceptance for their current mental, emotional, and physical stage and abilities. This firm foundation of understanding and acceptance opens opportunities for caregivers to meet their child where they are at AND provide their children with appropriate challenges for continued growth. 

Children need to know that our love does not depend on his or her accomplishments and that love is unconditional (ie. my love for you does not change or diminish when I’m mad or disappointed). In family life, mistakes or defeats should be expected and accepted as learning and growing opportunities. This growth mindset develops resilience and is good for both parents and children to learn and implement! Afterall, whoever said we need to be perfect? Confidence grows in a home that is full of unconditional love and acceptance. 

Oppositely, fear and anxiety grow out of experiences that we do not understand. Children are always developing a new understanding of their world as they grow developmentally, so their need for safety continues to change as they become more and more exposed to a BIG world. Children also need to feel safe in their own environment, when it comes to the structure of the space and the interactions of the people in that space. We can help provide a sense of security and safety for our children by how we help them make sense of the world and the environment we build in our homes. 

Lastly, it is important to communicate safety, love and acceptance through both words AND actions. Addressing our children’s basic needs can often be a helpful solution to managing difficult behaviors as a caregiver. However, we need to focus on the whole child, not just the behavior. We need to dive into the process of understanding their unique needs and feelings rather than skipping to how to fix it.  Next time your child is struggling with difficult behaviors, pause and ask yourself, what is the need driving this behavior and how can I help my child know I understand their need and that I am here to help?

-Susie Munsey, LCSW