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Teen depression can bring an array of emotions and behaviors that parents struggle to understand.

  • An urge to isolate, to experience intense feelings alone
  • Difficulty maintaining motivation with chores or homework
  • Disinterest in usual hobbies or interests
  • An opposite sleep schedule (sleeping during the day, awake at night)
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm

Well-intentioned parents can miss out on key opportunities to support their teen and empower them to create their own solutions. Sometimes a parent’s (often unintended) message of non-acceptance can even amplify or worsen the symptoms of depression.

When teens DO start to open up (i.e. express frustration, complain, tear up, etc.), there are some helpful (and not so helpful) ways you can respond. In his book, “Parent Effectiveness Training,” Dr. Thomas Gordon lists out 12 Communication Roadblocks that impair constructive conversation with your child (we’ve customized some of the examples to apply specifically to things we hear from depressed teens).


  1. Ordering, Directing, Commanding

“Get out of your room—you’ve been in there all day!”

“Stop complaining and just do your homework.


  1. Warning, Admonishing, Threatening

“It’s midnight. You’d better go to sleep if you know what’s good for you.”

“If I hear one more snide remark, you’ll be in trouble.”


  1. Exhorting, Moralizing, Preaching

“You shouldn’t…” “You ought to…”


  1. Advising, Giving Solutions or Suggestions

“Just wait until someone else comes along, and then you’ll get over your ex.”

“Go make some friends.”


  1. Lecturing, Teaching, Giving Logical Arguments

“When I get depressed, it always helps me to go for a walk.”

“Research shows …”


  1. Judging, Criticizing, Disagreeing, Blaming

“You’re not thinking clearly.”

“You’re not depressed; you just don’t want to do your chores.”

“It’s your fault that you’re in this situation.”


  1. Praising, Agreeing

“Well, I think you’re smart/beautiful/good enough.”

”You have amazing potential.”


  1. Name-Calling, Ridiculing, Shaming

“You’re so lazy.”

“What a BABY!”


  1. Interpreting, Analyzing, Diagnosing

“That’s just the depression talking.”
“You’re just cranky because you didn’t get enough sleep last night.”


  1. Reassuring, Sympathizing, Consoling, Supporting

 “I used to have low self-esteem too.”

“It’s going to be fine.”


  1. Probing, Questioning, Interrogating

“How long did you study for that test?”

“When did you start feeling sad today?”


  1. Withdrawing, Distracting, Humoring, Diverting

“Let’s talk about something else.”


Instead, Dr. Gordon suggests two key communication skills that can help you become a “safe” sounding-board for your teen as they process their feelings and do their own problem-solving. Using these techniques, you send a message of acceptance and validation, and equally importantly, you demonstrate that you have confidence in them to come up with their own solutions.





  • “Tell me about it.”
  • “Go ahead, I’m listening.”
  • “Really.”
  • “I see.”
  • “Would you like to talk about it?”



Active listening requires some very specific attitudes and responses. If done right, it helps a teen accept themselves and their feelings, and build confidence in their ability to know what to do next. It might even make them more receptive to a parent’s input, though this is not the primary goal of active listening. Here are some of YouTube videos that demonstrate how to use Active Listening:



If your teen is struggling with depression, don’t try to help them on your own. Add a professional counselor to your team. A counselorcan provide your teen with the support and guidance needed to regain happiness, drive, and self-confidence. If you’d like to read more, Dr. Gordon’s book (“Parent Effectiveness Training”) comes highly recommended by our counselors.