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Your teen has been much more quiet and withdrawn lately. They aren’t very talkative, are easily agitated and their mood has consistently been down. The big question in your mind is, “Is my teen depressed?”

The teen years are filled with highs and lows, so much so that it often feels like being on a roller coaster ride in the dark with lots of twists and turns, none of which you see coming. In a word, these years can be full of turbulence.

With all of the change going on, it is sometimes hard for parents to know if their teen is just going through a rough patch or if something bigger is going on like depression.

Approximately 1 in 5 teens from all walks of life will experience depression at some point during their teen years, which can be very scary for parents. In many instances teens themselves don’t understand what is going on, why they feel the way they do or even how to talk about what they are experiencing.

According to the Mayo Clinic, signs and symptoms of teen depression include:

  • Feelings of sadness, which can include crying spells for no apparent reason
  • Frustration or feelings of anger, even over small matters
  • Feeling hopeless or empty
  • Irritable or annoyed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
  • Loss of interest in, or conflict with, family and friends
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Fixation on past failures or exaggerated self-blame or self-criticism
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, and the need for excessive reassurance
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Ongoing sense that life and the future are grim and bleak
  • Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide
  • Tiredness and loss of energy
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Changes in appetite—decreased appetite and weight loss, or increased cravings for food and weight gain
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Agitation or restlessness—for example, pacing, hand-wringing or an inability to sit still
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Frequent complaints of unexplained body aches and headaches, which may include frequent visits to the school nurse
  • Social isolation
  • Poor school performance or frequent absences from school
  • Less attention to personal hygiene or appearance
  • Angry outbursts, disruptive or risky behavior, or other acting-out behaviors
  • Self-harm—for example, cutting, burning, or excessive piercing or tattooing
  • Making a suicide plan or a suicide attempt

When a teen is depressed, they can’t “just snap out of it.” But, there are things parents can do to help kids decipher their feelings and determine the best next steps. If a significant number of symptoms are present for two weeks, this is a good indication that it is time to reach out for help from a professional.

Things You Can Do If You Believe Your Teen Might Be Struggling With Depression

It may help to open the door to constructive conversation and let them know that if they are struggling with this, they can share with you.

Listen intently.

Avoid lecturing, as in, “If you would just…” It may be hard because they can be moody, but seek to be present and listen to what is going on in their world if they are willing to share with you. If they tell you how bad things are, avoid making statements like, “I think you are blowing things out of proportion” or “It really isn’t that bad.” Remember that perception is everything and even though you may feel like their perception is not accurate, this is their reality and understanding this is the starting point for being able to help them.

One other thing that might be helpful here—sometimes teens find it easier to talk about something difficult when they are doing something. Shooting hoops, running, taking a hike, doing yard work, cooking or anything that doesn’t make them have direct eye contact with you and gives them something to do with their hands while they are trying to share with you works. 

Encourage exercise, eating right, getting enough rest and being outdoors.

All of these things help to combat depression.

Acknowledge their feelings.

You don’t have to agree with them, but you do need to acknowledge them. When a teen is depressed they often feel like they are trying to slog through mud and fog. It’s hard to pinpoint feelings because everything feels “blah.” When they are able to pinpoint an emotion, validate it and work to keep the conversation going.

Avoid telling them what to do to “fix” the situation they are in.

Instead, ask them what they think they need to do. If they ask you for your thoughts, that’s the time to give some input. However, don’t give not too much because they can become overwhelmed quickly.

Work to help them avoid isolation and increase face time.

This is especially hard with COVID-19 factors at play. Be intentional about creating family time and encourage (don’t force) them to participate. Exercise with them. Look for activities they enjoy and do those things with them.

Limit screen time.

Many parents are tired of trying to take on this battle, but there is plenty of research indicating that lots of screen time can lead to depression. A recent study suggests that greater screen time—whether in the form of computers, cell phones, or tablets—may have contributed to a spike in depression and suicide-related behaviors and thoughts among American teens, particularly girls, between 2010 and 2015. Several studies show that when teens reluctantly agreed to give up screens for a week, they confessed at the end that they felt so much better without them.

Don’t be afraid to seek professional help.

As the parent, it is important to trust your gut if you feel your teen is depressed. If you don’t feel like anything you are doing is helping, seek assistance. You can go see someone or find someone for your teen to talk to. Having a depressed teen does not reflect poorly on you and your parenting skills. Adolescence is terribly complicated. Quarantine, COVID-19, no school, no summer camps or other activities has made it very hard on teens who are typically super social in nature.

Dealing with depression in your teen can be exhausting on multiple levels. Not only are you interacting with your teen and questioning whether or not you are doing the right thing, but thoughts about what you are experiencing can consume every moment of your day and sometimes the night. Walking this road can feel isolating and lonely, so it is important to surround yourself with supportive people, seek help for yourself, educate yourself and take time away to regroup. 

When I was a teen, summer meant one thing: work. And lots of it. I had 2-3 jobs lined up before school was out each summer because my goal was to make as much money as possible. Part of my motivation was to put gas in my car, pay for any eating out, and try to save for college expenses. The other motivation was that my parents believed working would help me learn to be more responsible and give me other necessary skills in order to be successful in life. 

With COVID-19 essentially slamming the door on the majority of summer jobs for teens, we face some challenges. The escape out of the isolation that many teens hoped for, the earning potential, and the learning opportunities that parents know come from working have been swiped right out of their hands. 

In fact, according to a Pew Research Center survey, young people ages 16-24 are more likely to face layoffs due to Coronavirus. Why? Because they make up 24% of employment in the restaurant, retail, and transportation industries. The lack of work leaves behind the opportunity to learn about working with others, being responsible, and accountable to someone other than parents. It may keep them from experiencing a sense of accomplishment from a hard day’s work.

Now what? With Plan A out the window, this is a great opportunity to help your teen put Plan B into motion. In spite of all that COVID-19 has taken from us, there are still plenty of things teens can do this summer. These things can make the time go by faster, but also help them continue to learn the skills they need to master before heading out on their own.

Here are four ways you can help teach your teen responsibility this summer in spite of COVID-19:

1. Set clear expectations for the summer.

Even though many options have been taken off the table, ask your teen to come up with a plan for their summer. The structure still matters and makes a huge difference in a teen’s mindset and motivation. Exercise, some type of work, help with household chores, time with friends in a socially distant way, things they need to learn to do for themselves such as laundry, cooking, managing money, and maintaining a vehicle, along with family time are important parts of their plan.

2. Help them think through opportunities that do exist.

Think yard work, shopping for those who cannot get out, being a nanny or manny for parents who have lost childcare and summer camp opportunities, odd jobs, or construction. Don’t forget about those special projects you or others have been putting off or need help doing. Part of the goal here is to help them think outside the box about what’s possible during a difficult time.

3. Encourage them to look at their strengths and identify what they are passionate about.

Are there online experiences they could take advantage of to further enhance their skill set and make them more marketable in the future? Can they take a distance-learning course to help them finish school faster or lessen their class load down the road?

4. Ask them to take on more household responsibilities to give you some relief while providing practical experience.

It may feel like more of a headache in the beginning, but these are all things they need to be able to do once they are out on their own. Grocery shopping, meal planning, cooking and/or house cleaning or making household repairs could be ways they can step up and assist in a big way if they aren’t already. As a bonus, additional teen responsibilities at home is a helpful reminder that in times of crisis, everybody has something valuable to contribute to the good of the family unit.

Obviously, we are all dealing with the unknown here and looking for ways to navigate the constantly changing landscape. Undoubtedly, there is a tremendous financial and emotional strain on teens and adults because of the limitations we’re dealing with and certainly, we need to be sensitive to thisEven in the midst of chaos, circumstances often present themselves that turn out to be positive in the end. I’m hopeful that these tips can help you prepare your teen to handle any situation that comes their way and to help them learn responsibility even in the midst of a pandemic.

It feels like there are so many rules and none at the same time. You can’t go anywhere, but you still want to be doing everything. It feels like a vacation, but there are still expectations and responsibilities. Nothing is stopping you from talking to anyone in any way. No one telling you to put your phone up during class. No dress code and no set start or end times to your day. 

Just a lot of talk about COVID-19 and quarantine. So now what? How are you handling all this?

Ask yourself these questions before you do something you’re not sure about: 

  • Is this something I would normally do or say?
  • Am I letting the circumstances influence a change in my morals?
  • Will I regret this in a month or feel guilty about it?
  • Is this me being my best self?
  • Will this show my parents I am trustworthy?

If you’re only doing “this” because you’re bored, your parents aren’t home, you’re spending more time behind your closed bedroom door, or whatever… then I think it’s fair to recognize that some choices can be really tempting during this time.

  • You’re waiting on your friend to reply and it’s been a while so you text your ex. If it’s over, then why go back to them now?
  • You know your parents won’t be home for a while so you sneak something to drink or invite someone over. Don’t give your parents the satisfaction of being right.
  • What’s sending a nude picture to one person going to hurt? Unfortunately, it doesn’t usually stay with that one person. 🙁
  • I won’t see them for a while, so I can comment/text this snark, and they’ll get over it. But what if they don’t? What if they did the same, would you get over it?

However, even though everything around you may feel out of your control and uncertain, how you carry yourself and your morals can stay consistent

You can be the one constant in your own life. 

During this strange time, you have to remember you are responsible for the things you can control. Your actions, choices, outlook, mindset, how you treat others, (parents/siblings included) and how you respond to your emotions—that’s all you

You also have the opportunity to rise above the expectations that often come with being a teenager. I’ll be honest, some adults are quick to assume the worst—that you’re not responsible, you’re already going to break the rules, or that you’ll slack off

You’ve got the chance to be better than others expect, to prove the haters wrong. 

  • You can be a more intentional friend.
  • Be a more thoughtful daughter or son.
  • You can be a productive student.
  • Be your best self during the worst times.

I want to encourage you to not change who you are because it feels like no one is watching. You are watching you. At the end of all of this, my hope for you is that you would be proud of yourself for the hard decisions you made, the things you learned about yourself, the time you took to do something you’ve not had time for, and the ways you helped others. 

We will all get through this together and have the opportunity to come out better than we went into it if we own our actions and make wise decisions. Enjoy this time away from the normal fast-paced weeks and stay well.

You all are going through something really challenging. The whole world is. I know going from seeing your friends or having an escape from home five days a week to nothing is a lot to take in.

Stay Safe

Here are some helpful tips to keep you safe and make wise decisions!

  1. With all of this downtime, it’s easy to spend time on social media and post more than usual. What you have to be careful of is not sharing your location publicly or saying that you are home alone. Accounts are easy to hack and predators know that everyone is stuck quarantined. Make sure your social accounts are set to “private,” especially at a time like this.
  2. If you are playing video games, only letting people you know in your Chat is so important. If someone starts asking how old you are, what city you live in, what grade and what school you go to, what your real name is, DO NOT ANSWER. You need to kick them out of the party and tell an adult. This is how predators can catfish young people into giving them enough personal information to find where you live.
  3. Try your best not to spend all day on your phone. “Cell phone usage has been associated with sleep deficit, depression, anxiety, and stress” according to the US National Library of Medicine/National Institute of Health. There is already a big sense of anxiety around COVID-19 and we don’t want to make it harder on ourselves!
  4. If your parents didn’t tell you someone was coming over or about a grocery delivery, don’t answer the door if you’re alone or it’s just you and your siblings.
  5. Don’t send it if you wouldn’t normally send it. If you’re under the impression it disappears when deleted, it doesn’t. The internet is forever. 

According to Business Insider’s interview with Richard Hickman, a digital forensics examiner, “There are many ways to save snaps that you receive—the easiest way is to take a screenshot or take a photo with another camera. Snaps are deleted from our servers after they have been viewed by the recipient.

Note that while it says photos are deleted from Snapchat’s servers, it doesn’t say photos are deleted from the devices.” What this means is that the image can be found on the phone. In fact, there are numerous free apps in the app store.

When COVID-19 Disrupts Everything, Here’s How to Spend All That Time

If you are struggling with filling your time in a way you won’t regret, here are some ideas!

  1. Learn new dances on Tik Tok.
  2. Practice your language skills on Babbel or Duo Lingo.
  3. Workout alongside celebrities and athletes on FitOn (variety for everyone)!
  4. Build a fort.
  5. Group Video Chat.
  6. Learn something new on Youtube.
  7. Watch movies.
  8. Craft with things you have.
  9. Draw.
  10. Work out! Here are some free apps that have home workouts! FitOn, Peloton (for 90 days), Nike Training Club—to name a few! Not to mention YouTube has so many and even some Zumba classes, too.
  11. Go on a walk or a hike.
  12. Write a song, rap, play, poems, short story, etc.
  13. Go outside and find a 4-leaf clover; make it a competition of who can find it the fastest.
  14. If you have siblings, play hide and seek For real, tap in to your inner kid!
  15. There are tons of free games in the app store and some you can invite your friends to play with you, like virtual Uno or cards. If you have an iPhone, Game Pigeon in the text message thread can allow you to play games with your friends!

We were about a month into our COVID-19 quarantine when it finally happened. There had been some ups and downs, of course, but I was feeling pretty good and able to stay positive as an individual, husband, and father. My family was handling it all surprisingly well. I was getting tons of work done. I felt like I was leading the family well. Then I finally snapped.

During the month or so of quarantine, I had been straining, working from home, fearful about my wife working in the medical field, stressed about a son doing middle school online, anxious about a son doing college online, sad for two adult children out of work, worried about one adult child still working in “essential services,” and totally uneasy about my at-risk mother-in-law. ALL of this under ONE roof. (You catch all the emotions in there? I didn’t.) But we were actually navigating it fairly well and trying to stay positive—movie nights, game nights, lots of good conversations. We got this! 

Then it all started to unravel. Then I unraveled. Big time.

In the span of a few days:

  • My wife was filing for unemployment. 
  • We had a brush with a tornado that left us with a yard full of fallen trees.
  • We had no power to our house for days. 
  • My car broke down while I was getting ice to keep food from spoiling. (It all spoiled anyway.)
  • We had friends who completely lost their homes and we were heartbroken. 
  • We had all-new financial pressures.

Things were starting to pile up. Stress and worry were at all new levels. 

I ignored it—too much to get done!

After about four days of trying to adjust to Generator Life and a bunch of new problems and expenses, I was soon trying to stay positive and hold my world together with threads and patches.

Then, in a single moment, life came undone. (Of course, it did.) The reality is, I came undone. Ironically, it was actually a relatively small thing that did it. Something so small that it would have been no big deal in any other context. Straw. Camel. Back. You know the saying.

I’ll admit it—I was lying in bed crying with the door locked, feeling fragile and helpless. 

How did it get to this? I’m stronger than this! What if anyone in my family sees me like this?

If we can allow ourselves to be honest, vulnerable, transparent humans for just a second, you might be feeling it, too. You might be close to snapping. Maybe you are on the edge of being overwhelmed. You may have already broken down. Your story and circumstances might have some major things going on in them that make my little pity party look pitiful. 

What do you do to stay positive when it all seems to fall apart?

Here’s what I learned after I snapped back from my snap: 

  1. Acknowledge your emotions and share them with people that you trust. For a while, I had been suppressing or burying emotions and needs deep down, trying to play it cool, but making myself a ticking timebomb. 
  2. Be real with your kids, your spouse, and your friends, because they have their “moments” too. Kids don’t need their parents to be perfect; they need them to be real. It’s good for them to see you work through imperfection and real-world problems. 
  3. Guard your mindset! Be careful what you look for in life, because you’ll find it. If you look for everything that is wrong, you’ll find it and focus on it. If you look for what is going right, that’s there, too. Find it and focus on it. You can acknowledge what’s wrong and still practice gratitude for what’s right. Remember what is really important—people
  4. Practice self-care. I was afraid to be honest with myself and the people around me—people that I know would help me, let me blow off steam, and help me process my emotions. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s more than okay to take care of yourself! Practice self-care. You may not be able to change your circumstances, but you can take care of yourself—physically and emotionally.
  5. Breathe. Think. Act. Take a moment to take some deep breaths, think about what you can and can’t control, and then respond appropriately—don’t react. Don’t make important decisions when you aren’t your best self or you’ve gone to pieces.
  6. Focus on helping others. This may sound counter-intuitive, but nothing feels better than helping someone with their problems. It actually makes our brain release happy chemicals and it may take your mind off your problems or even put them in perspective.

It’s okay to have a “moment”; it’s not okay to stay there. We’ve all been at a place where we felt like it was just one bad thing after the other and we’ve felt overcome by stress, anxiety, anger, or sadness. Give yourself permission to be real, but also develop a plan to stay positive the next time you feel overwhelmed and about to break down.

My first thought was to think back on all my experience parenting and working with teens. My first thoughts are frequently wrong. I realized that my 14-year-old son, Jude, was sitting right next to me. Ding, Ding, Ding! He has the best credentials to answer this question. Why not ask him! He’s the expert! 

What followed was me talking with my teen about talking with my teen. (He even grabbed my laptop at times and started typing, “You gotta tell parent’sTHIS!”)

Me: Is it helpful for parents to find out what you are into and learn all about it so they can build some common ground? Like, “Is your teen into skateboarding? Learn all about skateboarding so you can talk to them! Now you can ask if they ‘push mongo’ and if they can ‘aciddrop into a melongrab.’”

Jude: (Laughing Hysterically) You don’t even know what those words mean, do you?

Me: Um, no… I Googled them.

Jude: That stuff might help. It might come off as forced and lame.

Me: Bottom line, I can’t make you talk to me, can I?

Jude: (Kinda Smugly Triumphant) Nope!

Me: (Sigh) Let me type that…

Bottom Line: You can’t make them talk. Sorry. You can’t point the remote at them and press “Unmute.” The good news, however, is that you can adopt a parental posture and create an environment where a real conversation has a much higher chance of happening. 

Jude: I like the “unmute” thing!

Me: Hey, thanks, I just think…

Jude: (Interrupting) Just tell them to spend time with their kids. That’s it.

Me: You just told them.

Jude: What? Wait! Are you just typing out what I say? 

Me: Yup. Keep talking… I might make it sound more adult-y and mix in some of my thoughts.

According to a real-life teenager, there is no magic formula, but here are five things for parents to think about…


1. Some teens are just quiet or go through quiet phases. 

You remember being a teenager, right? Well, it’s way harder now, according to Jude. It’s more cutthroat, more emotionally charged, more adultish—social media amplifies all that exponentially. Jude says teens genuinely feel like you just won’t get it. It’s not an insult. They often process issues internally or with their peers. Resident Teen Expert encourages you to be patient. 

Big Idea: Make a standing offer to be available to talk about anything, whenever they want to.

2. Spend time with them not obviously trying to force a “big” talk.

You might be dying to hear about what is going on deep inside their world and incredibly anxious to speak into it. But just offer to watch them play video games, play some Uno, (Jude: Dude. We’ve never played Uno.) or go grab a bite to eat with no agenda other than to enjoy their company. Make small talk. Don’t sweat silences. 

Big Idea: Don’t force it. Spend time with them and see what happens organically. Small talk often leads to BIG TALK.

3. Don’t freak out when you hear something that rattles you.

Jude says this is “super important.” If they do open up to you, you will hear some stuff. Maybe some shocking stuff. If you freak out, it might be a loooong time before they open up to you again. Keep a good poker face. Jude: And don’t bombard them with a million questions. Don’t lecture. Me: Got it! Empathize. Probe gently. Listen, then listen some more. (Check out this article on active listening skills—especially the Six Levels of Listening.) 

Big Idea: So many teens say that their parents don’t listen and just talk at them, not with them.

Me: So, how do I do with all this?

Jude: Um…

Me: Okayokayokay! I’ll work on it!

4. You might not be the person they feel comfortable talking with right now. 

Jude: Some stuff I just feel better talking to Davin about. (His older brother.) As a parent, I’ve had to settle for… are they talking to someone? Someone I trust? For some topics and even some phases of teenage life, I realized my teen was more comfortable talking to Mom. I had to work to get to a place where I was just happy they had someone to talk to that I knew would basically give them the same input that I would. It might be an older sibling, their aunt, a teacher, or a coach. I know I can trust my sister, their favorite aunt, to give me a heads-up if she hears something I need to know about. 

Big Idea: Encourage them to cultivate relationships with people they are comfortable talking to.

5. Talk to them. But be real. Be transparent. Be vulnerable.

This speaks for itself. Sometimes we expect our teens to give us things we aren’t willing to give them. Me: Am I real with you Jude? Jude: Yeah. Maybe too real… Me: So that’s a compliment?

Big Idea: Make sure you are giving conversationally what you hope to get from your teen.

Me: You get the final word.

Jude: Spend time with them, listen, don’t lecture. Just tell parents to spend time with their kids.

Me: You just did, again. What do you think of this blog?

Jude: This blog goes hard.

And then, on the way to school the next morning, out of nowhere…

Jude: We told them not to lecture, right?

What’s The Big Idea?

  • Offer to be available to talk about anything, whenever they want to. Be patient.
  • Don’t force it. Spend time with them and let conversations grow organically. Small talk often leads to deeper conversations.
  • Practice good listening skills. Don’t talk at them; talk with them.
  • Encourage them to cultivate relationships with people they are comfortable talking to and that you can trust.
  • Model the openness, vulnerability, and transparency that you are hoping to get in return.

At the start of this year, there was no way anyone would have guessed school would be out, everyone would be quarantined, and spring break would be canceled. And yet, here we are. As a highschooler, how are you supposed to enjoy time off of school when you’re stuck at home either by yourself or with your family?

It all starts with your mind! No matter what, if you’re stuck in the mindset that you can’t have fun because your plans are canceled, then there’s no possible way that you will enjoy the week off from school! BUT, if you choose to do some of these things to transition your mind to thinking positively, you’ve got a much higher chance of actually enjoying your spring break, even if you are stuck at home. Yes, some of these things might seem cliché, but we promise – they work!

To transition your mindset, try…

  • Writing a list of 20 things you’re thankful for. Go beyond your friends or a roof over your head. Dig deep and really think it through.
  • Feeling good about yourself. If that means dressing nicely, doing your hair, getting outside, or video chatting with some friends, do whatever you need to feel confident and content.
  • Closing your door for a second. Even if you can’t actually spend time by yourself (hello, younger siblings), spend a minute stepping away from your phone, Netflix, and/or any other distractions and just breathe for a minute.
  • Don’t blame your parents. Right now, everyone in the world is under a ton of stress and each person is dealing with it in their own way. Your parents are in the same boat, too! This is new and difficult for everyone.

Okay… Now that your mindset is right, here are some great ways you can choose to have fun on this year’s spring break!

  • “Travel” the world. Just because you can’t go anywhere doesn’t mean you can’t pretend you can! Recreate the most photographed places in the world out of things around your house. A paper towel roll can turn into the Leaning Tower of Pisa if you try hard enough!
  • Plan a family night. From dinner to games to questions to ask each other, take family night into your own hands! If everyone in your family can’t participate, put together a friend’s night via video call: eat dinner together, watch a movie together, and enjoy a little company.
  • Put together a tutorial. Love doing makeup? Play the guitar? Have a hidden talent (even if it’s making that whistling sound with grass)? Know a few tips for your favorite video game? Put together a tutorial video for your best skill, then share it with family and friends!
  • Plan next year’s spring break. Just because you can’t do it now doesn’t mean it can’t ever happen! Plan a trip with your family or friends to take for next year’s spring break, from where you want to stay to the best restaurants in the area.
  • Teach your favorite TikTok dance. Sure, your mom might not seem super into it. But maybe she’ll give it a try! Teach your parents or your siblings all your favs and then do a group video. Can’t convince them to join in? Have a dance-off with some friends over a video call!
  • Learn something new. Try making cookies you’ve never had before. Teach yourself how to sing (YouTube videos help!). Learn how to make homemade bread. Try a new way to exercise. Write a short story. PRO TIP: start a challenge with your friends to try something new every day, and maybe teach each other what you learned!
  • Break a world record. There are SO many world records out there, and some of them are honestly not that impressive. Try to break one of them, whether it’s the fastest time to put 24 cans in the fridge or the most t-shirts put on in one minute.

Even if your spring break isn’t looking like you had planned, you can still have fun! Use the time you have off from school to know yourself better, know your family better, and know your friends better, too! The opportunities we have right now are unique and once-in-a-lifetime. Don’t waste your spring break wishing your situation was different. Instead, you can choose to enjoy it to the best of your ability!

(also, if you do end up doing one of these activities for your spring break, be sure to tag us at @relatableftf!)

A conversation tonight with my youngest son that revealed what he was thinking:

[After not seeing me go to work for days.]

Son: You still have your job, right?

Me: Yeah, dude. I’m working from home. Remember?

Son: So you still get paid, right?

Me: Yeah, I do.

Son: What about Mom?

Me: She found out today that they are going to start making cuts.

Son: Are we going to be able to keep our utilities and stuff on?

Me: I think we have that stuff worked out right now.

Son: What about people that work at a restaurant and the restaurant closes?

Me: They lose their job. There’s gonna be a lot of people with serious needs.

Son: So they don’t make money, but they still have to pay their bills?

Me: Yeah, man…

Son: [Pauses and Thinks] This is like, apocalyptic stuff!

Me: It’s the unknown, but we’ll face it as a family. We go through the good together…

Son: ….and the bad.

A conversation not ten minutes later with my oldest son that revealed his heart:

[Cook at a local restaurant.]

Son: Hey, can I talk to you?

Me: Sure!

Son: So tomorrow will be our last regular day at the restaurant.

Me: Then what? You guys closing too?

Son: Take-out will be open. I’m okay because I cook. Fifty servers will be out of work.

Me: Ugh. Man. What are you thinking?

Son: I want to help them, but I don’t know the best way to do it.

[What followed was a conversation about the best ways to help the people he cared about. We talked about helping a lot of people a little, versus, helping a few people a lot. We talked about how to find out who will be hurt by this the most. We talked over his budget and discussed how much he wanted to spend and about whether he should buy food or buy gift cards. We talked about how he wanted to help anonymously.]

Son: So, I’m just gonna buy gift cards and talk to the front of the house manager.

Me: Find out who will be jammed up the most? Maybe single moms with kids?

Son: Yeah, I’ll have the manager give them the cards. Then they can buy food they like.

Me: Very cool that you are getting outside yourself and thinking about other people.

Son: I just wanna help out… these people are my work family.

Me: If you get a chance, talk to your little brother…

Have age-appropriate conversations with your kids. Be honest. Be real. Be a good listener. Their mind and heart might be “between the lines” (like my youngest son’s underlying fear.) They might want to know what is going on and need help processing it. They may need hope. They may just need to vent. They may want to talk about helping other people during these difficult times.

I was fortunate tonight that my two sons came to me. That won’t always happen. Don’t wait for them to start a conversation.

Emphasize that this will be challenging but this will pass. Reinforce the idea that we are a family and we are in this together, no matter what. Encourage them to think outside of themselves and consider how they can help other people.

We are all connected.

This is an opportunity for your kids to learn valuable life lessons and develop character. This is an opportunity for you to connect with your kids. Be available. Be a good listener. Be their guide.

*For more parenting resources, including COVID-19 specificresources, go toFirstthings.org.

Panicking About Your Kids’ Phones? New Research Says Don’t is the title of an article in the New York Times. 

The writer says a growing number of academicians are challenging the true impact of social media and smartphones, questioning whether too much time on devices is actually the culprit for the dramatic increase in anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, especially in teens.

Before you jump on that bandwagon, believing the claims, you might want to hear what psychologist Jean Twenge has to say. Twenge is a professor of psychology at San Diego State and author of numerous books including Generation Me and her most recent release, iGen: Why Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.

In a blog for the Institute for Family Studies, Twenge calls out the NYT writer on six facts that, she claims, he ignores. 

Twenge contends that the NYT article grossly misrepresents the research consensus on technology and mental health because the article makes it sound as if the majority of researchers have concluded that technology use isn’t related to mental health. Twenge says that is not the case. 

“The article also misrepresents findings from a recent review of screen time and mental health studies,” writes Twenge. “The article does mention a recent review of studies on screen time and mental health by Amy Orben, who concluded that the average correlation between social media use and depressive symptoms is between .11 and .17.”

The article cites this study as evidence that the link is small, but Twenge argues these are not small effects. Data from the CDC’s Youth Risk Survey of US High School students indicates that twice as many heavy users of electronic devices (5+ hours a day) compared to light users (1 hour a day) have attempted suicide (12% vs. 6%).

Twenge states that the NYT article quotes experts who, without plausible evidence, dismiss the possibility that the rise of social media and smartphones might be behind the marked rise in teen depression, self-harm and suicide in recent years. The article quotes Jeff Hancock of the Stanford Social Media Lab as saying, “Why else might American kids be anxious other than telephones? How about climate change? How about income inequality? How about more student debt?”

“The problem with this argument is that none of these factors can explain the increase in teen mental health issues that began in 2012,” Twenge writes. “First, they didn’t happen at the same time. The largest increases in income inequality occurred between 1980 and 2000… Student loan debt has been stable since 2012. The number of Americans worried a fair amount or a great deal about climate change went from 73% in 2012 to 74% in 2019.”

Twenge contrasts this with 2013, the first year the majority of Americans owned a smartphone. By 2018, 95% of teens had access to a smartphone and 45% of them said they were online “almost constantly.”

“The largest increase in self-harm, self-poisoning and suicide occurred among 10- to 14-year-old girls,” Twenge writes. “Hancock would have us believe that 10- to 14-year-olds are harming themselves because they are upset over income inequality or possibly someday having to pay off student loans after college – not because they are bullied online, not because they feel constant pressure to look perfect on social media, not because they can access online sites instructing them in self-harm, and not because electronic communication has replaced in-person interaction, a basic human need.”

While Twenge does state that concern about climate change seems plausible, she asks, “How many 12-year-old-girls do you know who are cutting themselves because the planet is warming? It is much more likely they are concerned about self-image, social status, friendships and family relationships – all issues that have become fraught in the age of social media.” 

Twenge also notes that the rise in depression, self-harm and suicide has been considerably larger among girls than boys. She contends that all of the issues listed above should impact boys and girls equally. Thus, they do not explain why the rise would be larger for girls.

Technology use, however, does differ by gender. Girls spend more time on social media, which may be more toxic than the gaming which is more popular among boys.

Twenge calls out the author for combining two completely separate questions – whether technology use is related to depression among individuals and whether the increase in smartphone and social media use is related to the generational increase in teen depression.

“Even teens who don’t use technology have been affected by the shift in teen social life from in-person get-togethers to online interactions,” Twenge says. “Consider a teen who doesn’t use social media and would prefer to go out with her friend, but who will she go out with when everyone else is at home on Instagram?”

The NYT article also points to Europe as proof that smartphones are not behind the increase in teen depression, yet the evidence shows otherwise. The study used to make the case examines adults, not teens. The World Health Organization reports increases in suicide rates around the world, with the largest increases among youth.

The last point Twenge makes is that while the researchers claiming that technology use is unrelated to well-being said they had not taken any funding from the tech industry, one of them is currently employed and one was previously employed by the Oxford Internet Institute, which is funded by Facebook, Google and Microsoft. 

“Parents can rest assured that their instincts to protect their kids from too much screen time are not wrong,” Twenge writes. “If kids who ate five apples a day versus one were twice as likely to attempt suicide, parents would make extremely sure their kids didn’t eat too many apples. Why should our response to technology time be any different?”

The moral of this story is – don’t believe everything you read. Check the facts for yourself. What you don’t know can hurt you and the ones you love.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 1, 2020.

I remember when I was in the awkward teen stage of life. It was so difficult to navigate my way through high school. Unfortunately, the internal criticism didn’t stop when I turned 18; it followed me into adulthood.

Read more

In his book, The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction, Justin Earley shares this quote by Mortimer J. Adler: 

“Without communication, there can be no community. … That is why conversation, discussion, or talk is the most important form of speaking and listening.”

FRIENDSHIP MATTERS

In recent years, we are having fewer and fewer sit-down, face-to-face conversations. Those things seem to have been replaced by texting, emojis, messaging on Facebook and emails. All these things may have short-circuited our ability to know each other deeply.

News stories abound about the increase in anxiety and depression for all ages, we have seen the suicide rate triple for teens, and surveys indicate we as a culture are lonelier than we have ever been. In light of that, perhaps the new year should be designated as a year of intentional conversation with others.

“Everything in the universe has its roots in friendship,” says Earley. “That means that longing to be in right relationship with other people and things is at the heart of every molecule in existence – and most powerfully in our own hearts.”

Earley explains that conversation exposes us in two ways: face-to-face conversation brings risks and truth-telling happens.

HOW WE COMMUNICATE IMPACTS EVERYONE

Massachusetts Institute of Technology psychologist and author of Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, Sherry Turkle believes that replacing face-to-face communication with technology is depleting people’s capacity for empathy toward others. Research has shown that the way people are currently seeking to communicate through devices has threatened true friendship. Instead of things happening in real time right in front of us, people are planning and curating the versions of themselves that they want to bring to the discussion. 

Removing tone of voice, facial expression and body language from communication leaves the conversation lacking in so many ways. How can we bring back real, honest conversation? It’s not as hard as you might think.

  • Make an effort to remove devices from the dinner table whether you are at home or at a restaurant. 
  • Create space for regular conversation and fellowship with family and friends. Instead of the well-meaning, “Let’s get together soon!” pull up your calendar and set a date to get together to catch up on life. 
  • For the sake of your emotional health, there should be a couple of people you connect with on a regular basis. These would be the people Earley is describing with whom risky conversations take place, truth-telling occurs and perfection is not expected.
  • When it comes to modeling the art of conversation with your children, create tech-free zones/times in your home where your family can come together for game night or other activities that invite the opportunity for conversations to occur. 

CONVERSATION STARTERS

If you feel like you aren’t great at getting conversations going, here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What is something that is popular now that totally annoys you and why?
  • What is the best/worst thing about your work/school?
  • If you had intro music, what song would it be and why?
  • Where is the most beautiful place you have ever been?
  • If you had to change your name, what would it be and why?
  • How should success be measured, and by that measurement, who is the most successful person you know?
  • If you could learn the answer to one question about your future, what would the question be?
  • What was the best period of your life so far? What do you think will be the best period of your entire life?

People of all ages are actually dying from the lack of community that currently exists in our culture, but that trend does not have to continue. Every person can be intentional about having regular meaningful conversations with others. Imagine how different our culture could be if we all committed to working on this.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on December 28, 2019.