Their hormones are kicking in, their responsibilities are increasing, and their schedules are overbooked. To make things even more challenging, tweens or preteens also struggle with changing family and friend relationships, stress, confusing cultural expectations, and the anxiety that often comes with their approaching adolescence. It's no wonder that so many kids suffer from occasional sadness or possibly, even childhood depression.
It can be difficult to know if your child is going through a major bout with childhood depression, or is just temporarily down in the dumps. Acting quickly to help your child, whatever his situation may be, is important. Children who suffer from childhood depression are more likely to use alcohol and drugs. They are also more at risk for engaging in other dangerous behaviors.
Recognizing Childhood Depression in Tweens
The first step to helping your child is recognizing that there might be a problem. Depression in tweens may not be noticed right away by you, and the symptoms can be difficult to spot and can be confused with the normal trials and tribulations of growing up. Tweens are frequently moody, and their changing hormones and emotions can make it difficult to know if they're just going through a phase or something more serious.
While depression symptoms in tweens vary from individual to individual, it's not uncommon for depressed tweens to exhibit several of the following behaviors, at one time or another:
- A change in appetite (eating too much or not enough)
- Withdrawing from friends and activities
- Sleeping disturbances (sleeping too much, not sleeping well, avoiding sleep)
- A decline in grades
- Obsession over body image
- Feelings of frustration
- An inability to complete simple tasks
- Overwhelming guilt and feelings of worthlessness
- A change in normal behavior or personality changes
- Reluctance to participate in social activities
- Frequent stomachaches or headaches that don't respond to treatment
- Body aches that can't be explained or treated
- An inability to enjoy life and a lack of interest in the future
Many tweens will rotate through the above symptoms routinely, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're suffering from childhood depression. If your child's behavior lasts for more than two weeks, it could be a sign that her troubles are more than a temporary slump. If you're unsure about your child's behavior, do not hesitate to ask her pediatrician, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist for an opinion, and perhaps an examination. Also, ask other family members, your child's teacher, and any other adult who has frequent contact with your child for their thoughts concerning her behavior. Depression in children, when left untreated, can lead to a number of other serious problems including drug and alcohol abuse, relationship problems, and even suicide.
What Causes Childhood Depression?
That's the million dollar question. In tweens, depression can be triggered by a lack of neurotransmitters (which help you feel happiness). A combination of traumatic events (divorce, death, friendship problems, a family move, etc.) may also trigger depression in some youths, as may a family predisposition to the disease. Believe it or not, depression is actually fairly common in tweens with as many as 1 in 30 suffering from the disease. The good news is depression can be treated successfully, and with careful monitoring and support, a child suffering from depression has a very good chance of overcoming the disease.
What Should I Do?
Visiting with your child's doctor is a must, and he may recommend that your child seek counseling as well, most likely with a pediatric mental health provider. In some cases counseling is enough to help a troubled child through rough times, in other circumstances medicine may be administered.
Whatever course of action the doctors propose to take, your role is as an advocate for your child, and a loving support system. Listen to your child when she shares information about her feelings, and refrain from judging. Let her know that you are there for her, always, and whenever she needs you. Keep telling her this, even if you think she's gotten the point. Depressed tweens need to hear that you will be there for them, and that your love is unconditional.