THE PROBLEM: My 14 yo son has struggled with depression since he was 9, and for whatever reason, nothing seems to work out for him. He tried out for the school play and didn’t make it, which has put him in a pretty dark mood; it was something he was actually excited about. It’s hard for him to make friends, and he’s not a real joiner, so he’s by himself a lot. His dad does stuff with him all the time (he’s a wonderful father), but a kid needs to be with his peers, too. I have to admit, I’m sad most of the time these days, thinking about how hard things are for him. I guess one good thing is that he feels he can talk to me and my husband, but we don’t always know what to tell him. And yes, he’s in counseling.
MARY SAYS: My heart goes out to you; it’s tough watching anybody’s child struggle with depression, but this one is yours, and as you say, it hurts. I applaud you for getting your son the help he needs, but I also hear you asking: “What else can we do?” And because you’ve been on this path for a while, I’m assuming you’ve covered the basics: nutrition, exercise, positive thinking, and all the other powerful tools available to him.
What I think you’re looking for is something new.
You’re lucky your son is willing to spend time with you, which gives you the opportunity to take the lead and chart a new path. As a family, it’s time to venture out and explore this big, beautiful world—and your son’s part in it. While he may be a loner, I bet he has a passion for something. Cooking? Reading? Animals? At the age of fourteen, your son can apply his talents to something much larger than himself.
Like, your community.
Go with your son to a soup kitchen. Join a local group that reads to small children or seniors who can no longer read for themselves. Perhaps the two of you (or three, if dad is up for it) can volunteer at an animal shelter. Ideally, you’ll find a group that meets regularly so your son can’t help but form relationships, particularly if there are other young people involved. Engaging with others on a mission to serve is a blessing for those who can’t get out of their own heads.
One of the issues with depression is how skewed one’s perspective is. Surrounded by peers at school—where everybody is in the same life stage—creates an insular worldview that says: “This is all there is.” Building relationships with people of all ages and in all walks of life will challenge your son to broaden his perspective and offer him some fascinating new people to do it with.
While engagement like this may not cure his depression, it can address what’s missing in your son’s life right now. And don’t worry if he balks. Sometimes, with a child that age, you need to insist he do what you are asking him to do.
ERIKA SAYS: Sometimes, we project our own triggers onto our children. We’re moping about their hardships, and unbeknownst to us, they’re actually doing fine. Has your son mentioned feeling as though nothing works out for him? There may be a chance he doesn’t care as much as you think he does.
Our children watch us—closely. How we respond to situations, how we interact with those around us, and especially how we treat ourselves. So he didn’t make the school play, okay, then what can he do to make it in next time? Perhaps he can ask the teacher why he didn’t make it or what he needs to work on.
If it’s hard for your son to make friends, find an activity he’s interest in. (I know for me, it can be challenging to make friends unless I share a common interest with someone.) It sounds like your son has a passion for the arts. Signing him up for an improv class might be something new and fun for him to try.
It’s possible that all your son needs is one good friend. Some kids enjoy being a part of a group, but others may feel overwhelmed by groups and would rather hang out with one or two friends. I would suggest sitting down with your son and asking him if he feels lonely. Does he find it hard to make friends, or is it by choice?
If it’s by choice, are you okay with this? If the answer is “no,” why not? Could it be your personal experiences causing you to feel so sad for your child?
You mentioned your son is already in counseling, which is key. But have you considered going, too? There’s only so much we can hold onto before it wears us down. Individual counseling will provide insight as to how your son processes things and how you can be there for him. It may also help you sort through any of your own past experiences that are causing your grief.
I bet your son appreciates the effort and support he’s getting from both of you. You’re doing a great job, and you sound like one awesome momma!
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising a small child (Erika). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in!
If you have a question for Mary and Erika, we’d love to hear from you! firstname.lastname@example.org
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Mary Follin is author of the award-winning children’s book ETHYR and Teach Your Child to Read™, an online phonics program for children ages 3-6. She is mom to two grown kids. Follow Mary on Instagram at @advice_mom.
Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.