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There is a great deal of research documenting that the children and teens of depressed parents are at high risk for depression and teen substance abuse along with other anti-social activities.
Researchers expect that teens of mothers who were currently depressed would be most likely to engage in risky behaviors “since those children may be missing both the supervision and support that a parent can offer during an emotional time,” said Ian Colman, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Ottawa in Canada.
A growing number of schools are reporting that teens are unable to meet the basic demands of sitting, paying attention, and controlling themselves while attending school. More and more teens are placed in special education programs. The number of teens on Ritalin and other ADD/ADHD medicine are on the rise at an alarming rate. No one knows why this is occurring. Some attribute it to electronics such as smart phones, video games, and some blame divorce.
At the same time, depression among adults – including parents – is almost epidemic, and continues to rise. Today, almost twenty percent of the population meet the criteria for some form of depression and that does not take into consideration parents who are temporarily feeling the blues.
Early formative years are when adults begin to have a greater influence on their children. It is during this stage that children gain approval from parents and teachers by exhibiting competencies and activities that are valued by society, thereby developing a sense of pride and skills mastery. If children do not receive positive feedback and encouragement from their environment, they may develop a sense of low self-esteem and inferiority.
A depressed parent may not be able to provide a child with positive feedback and meet their psychological needs and that can likely lead the child to engage in high risk behaviors as they move towards adolescence.
Children of depressed mothers were about twice as likely to start smoking or use marijuana compared to children of mothers with few symptoms of depression throughout their kids’ childhood.
Teens whose mothers had been depressed were also 1.4 times more likely to start drinking alcohol and three times greater to use hallucinogens. These teens are also susceptible to engage in both violent and nonviolent delinquent behaviors versus teens who mothers were not depressed during their kids middle childhood.
A good child therapist knows that often when a child is in trouble, parents are depressed. Though the parents feel that the child’s behavior is the source of their distress, often the child is reacting to the parent’s depression. In extreme cases, parents respond to their teens substance abuse and other mental behavioral issues by removing the “troublesome” teen from their homes into other homes (boarding schools, relatives).
What can parents do?
If parents set rules, then they need to follow through with them. A parent may never realize that, in reality, he or she is in some cases severely depressed. When a parent’s depression is treated successfully, the parent has the energy to pay attention, set limits, be firm and consistent, and…..the child’s behavior improves.
Being a parent is one of the most challenging jobs on the planet. Parents have multiple demands and responsibilities in life, which can lead to being overstressed and depressed.
It is important for parents to seek support for themselves, particularly if they are suffering from symptoms of depression, including sleep problems, changes in appetite, feeling hopeless, or suicidal. With intervention, depression can be successfully treated and treatment is the best thing that a parent can do for the family.