Childhood has its ups and downs that are usually taken care of with a good amount of hugs, band-aids and ice cream, but these same ups and downs in the teen years can go much deeper than any hug, band-aid or bowl of ice cream can fix. How do you know when your teen is experiencing the downs you can’t see? There are red flags that can alert you to situations that require immediate attention, but you need to be aware of them.
You may not always know,or understand, that many things you deem as fine can be perceived as horrible by your teen. Home life that’s in disarray; divorce; health of parents, grandparents and siblings; financial problems; friendship issues; etc. can send your teen spiraling into despair. If you don’t have an open relationship you may not even see what’s happening before your own eyes. Even if you do have an open relationship you still need to be looking for the following signs.
The important thing to remember is that your child hasn’t planned to do the following things to themselves; they just happen based on their ability to process and cope with what’s going on in their world. They may not always go in sequence, but they are pretty universal when it comes to teen depression. Don’t take them lightly. Use them to open up discussion and set plans. Seek help for your child as needed, but don’t brush these flags off as teen drama or attention seeking devices.
Falling grades are always a sign that something is going on with your child. Contacting teachers is the first thing on your agenda as they will let you know how your teen has been doing in class both socially and academically. Make sure you are specific when asking for information. Any good teacher should be able to share your child’s behavior and changes they have seen. Most schools have given parents the ability to check on grades and attendance daily. Use these tools.
A drop in attendance to classes is another sign that you may find as a red flag. Is your child truant to specific classes or are they feeling under the weather and asking to stay home? Missing classes creates a catch-22 issue for them as they fall farther and farther behind which feeds into their falling grades.
Pulling away from friends and out of activities for all sorts of reasons is another flag that is universal for all teens. They usually come up with some good reasons, but you, as a parent, need to discern if these are realistic or based on their inability to cope with what is going on in their life.
Tiredness and lack of appetite usually show themselves as another red flag during times of depression. Does your teen just want to sleep all the time? Is this a new behavior pattern or is it a growth spurt issue? Tiredness in relation to growth spurts isn’t usually accompanied by the red flags listed above. Tiredness that is based in depression will always have some of the other red flags. Loss of appetite follows depression. Gain in appetite goes along with a growth spurt.
Cutting markson the arms, legs and other body areas is a red flag that signals your child is dealing with something painful enough to cause self harm in this manner. Do you notice that your teen is wearing long sleeves when it’s hot outside? Do they spend a good amount of time in their room behind closed doors? Although this behavior hasn’t been linked to suicide, it doesn’t mean your child won’t eventually go that route. Cutting behavior is usually tied to a release of pain as endorphins begin to take over during the activity. This doesn’t mean it is healthy and this red flag required attention as a parent in getting your child help.
Texts or Facebook postings that point to suicidal thoughts are red flags that need immediate attention. These usually follow the red flags listed above if they haven’t been seen by anyone. This is a big cry for help that precedes actual suicide attempts. Do you monitor your child’s Facebook page? Do you know their friends well enough that they would let you know what they read? Friends usually go to school administrators with information they receive or read that deals with suicide talk. They don’t feel comfortable going straight to the parent(s). In order to stay on top of this you will want to let your child’s high school counselor know if you are seeing red flags at home and through grades. This will keep you in the loop at school if they do have friends that report the cry for help. If you do receive a call from school in regard to a message received, know that they want to work with you in keeping your child safe.
The red flags that aren’t listed above are drug and alcohol abuse and sexual promiscuity. These require the same attention and should not be overlooked. Remember that red flags are a cry for help and need attention before they proceed to the final cry for help. Your child will be defensive when you answer their cry, but don’t give up or think you made the wrong decision. You didn’t and there are people ready to help your child walk through whatever it is they are dealing with at this point in time.
Leslie Bogar has her Masters in Education and over 20 years experience in Education. She is currently the Dean of Students at a College Preparatory High School in the Denver Metro area. She has raised three teens of her own and written for various publications on subjects dealing with youth culture. Leslie is also engaged in educating parents and educators on issues facing youth.