Teenage depression can be frightening for kids and parents. Clinical teen depression is relatively rare, but mood swings aren't. They're part and parcel of growing up. Mood swings affect adolescents across the spectrum, regardless of background, upbringing, personality or gender. Here are things to keep in mind about teen mood swings.
* Teen depression is "normal." Puberty is characterized by mood swings that resemble depression. Hormonal changes drive thoughts, feelings and behavior. A healthy teen may go from sad to sullen to angry to giddy all in about two minutes. Teens and parents may confuse mood swings with depression. Mood swings are temporal while clinical depression is mostly static.
* Individual emotional development differs. Differentiating between teen mood swings and true depression is further complicated by individual development patterns. Some teens act withdrawn; others act out; others do both. Personality changes in puberty are unpredictable, too. My sons were placid as kids but angry and combative as teens. My mildest son says he remembers being mad for an entire summer. Conversely, my daughters, both temperamental as kids, struggled more with sadness as teens.
* Parent instincts are reliable. So if puberty parallels depression, how can I tell if my teen is just moody or really depressed? Unfortunately, there's no definitive answer to that. Each kid is different. The best we parents can do is to trust our good judgment.
* Parents can help. I can't stop puberty, nor would I want to. But I can make it a little easier for my child to bear. By making myself available to talk, listening without judging or pontificating and validating my teen's feelings, I help her navigate the troubled sea. When I stay calm, I help her not to panic. When I'm positive and upbeat, she draws strength from my example.
* Teens need parents. Teens may not admit it, but they need us, maybe even more than they did when they were little. A child is generally confident, but a teen second-guesses every move he makes. Even if you feel a little awkward, like you're wasting your time or that your teen is pushing you away, don't stop offering support. She needs to know you care enough to risk feeling foolish. She needs to know you aren't going to give up.
Puberty isn't permanent. This more than anything else is what has helped my husband and I survive through four kids' teen years. There is an end in sight, if we can hold on through the tempest.