Everything You Wanted To Know About Your Middle Schooler But Were Too Afraid To Ask – Part 2

By Philippe Rey, Psy.D.
Executive Director of Adolescent Counseling Services

Let’s start this second part of our conversation by making sure that we all understand that middle school is a time for fluctuations in physical and emotional energy. During this time, kids experiment with risk taking, have an increased sense of curiosity, love danger and adventure, and very easily can have their feelings hurt.  They may exhibit feelings of immortality yet at the same time they worry a lot about what their friends think about them. There is an increased need for independence yet they still want to be pampered and protected. Additionally, you will notice a need for your middle schooler to be withdrawn and desire for privacy. As parents, you will experience for the first time, them insisting or demanding privileges while trying at all costs to avoid responsibilities.

Above, I described some behaviors and feelings which are a normal part of the growing stage of middle school. Some are subtle and some are more apparent to both family members and teachers at school. Some might even raise concerns even though they are completely part of normal emotional development. In the following paragraphs, I would like to spend more time helping you decide when behaviors and feelings are normal or when you should feel concerned and look for professional help in your community.

Let’s start with depression and middle schoolers. It is important to know the facts and look at both national as well as local trends. A recent National Institute of Mental Health Study indicates that one in five children have some sort of mental, behavioral, or emotional problem, and that one in ten may have a serious emotional problem. Among teens, one in eight may suffer from depression. Of all these children and teens struggling with emotional and behavioral problems, a mere 30% receive any sort of intervention or treatment.

The other 70% simply struggle through the pain of mental illness or emotional turmoil, doing their best to make it to adulthood.

Locally in both San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, 25 % of 7th, 9th and 11th graders reported symptoms of depression meaning that they felt so sad or hopeless for at least two weeks in the previous year that they had stopped doing some regular activities. Further, 16.3% of the 7th, 8h and 11th graders reported they seriously considered, and 8.2% reported they actually attempted suicide.

This is really concerning for any parent. SO with that in mind, as a parent, how do I recognize if my child might be down or depressed? We know that teenagers face a host of pressures, from the changes of puberty to questions about who they are and where they fit in. The natural transition from child to adult can also bring parental conflict as teens start to assert their independence. With all this drama, it isn’t always easy to differentiate between depression and normal teenage moodiness. Making things even more complicated, teens with depression do not necessarily appear sad, nor do they always withdraw from others. For some depressed teens, symptoms of irritability, aggression, and rage are more prominent.

The following are hallmark signs and symptoms of teen depression:

  • Sadness or hopelessness
  • Irritability, anger, or hostility
  • Tearfulness or frequent crying
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

If you are unsure if an adolescent in your life is depressed or just “being a teenager,” consider: how long the symptoms have been present, how severe they are and how different the teen is acting from his or her usual self. While some “growing pains” are to be expected as teenagers grapple with the challenges of growing up, dramatic, long-lasting changes in personality, mood, or behavior are red flags of a deeper problem.

Please do not hesitate to have a conversation about your child’s emotional well-being with your family doctor or caring staff at your child’s school. Additionally, we at Adolescent Counseling Services are available to talk to you and answer any questions you have about what may or may not be going on with your child. Do not hesitate to contact us. We love to help!  Feel free to visit us on the web at www.acs-teens.org or call us at 650.424.0852.

Click here to read Part 1 in this series.

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