I pictured myself at this stage of parenting sitting in a dark forest Yoda-like as younger mothers looked to me for wisdom. But even though my kids are now 16 and 22, it’s confusion, not clarity that invades my decision making. And that whole Yoda thing? Yeah — never gonna happen.
Raising kids of any age today requires parents to navigate a million moving parts. The latest information needed to make the best decisions comes with an appendage of gray areas attached. When my kids were younger, one study heralded video games as improving math skills and hand-eye coordination in kids. So, we smiled on our future surgeons as they mastered Crash Bandicoot and Mario Brothers for hours a day. Now, more studies than not, claim too much screen time can lead to moodiness, depression, and zap motivation and social skills — or does it?
As Yoda would say, “Live in areas of gray, we do.”
Google, Gather, Repeat.
So before moving forward on most parenting fronts, we Google, gather, and repeat. Such is the case with issues like teenage depression. We try to understand: Is our child suffering from legitimate depression or do we just need to turn off the smartphone for a few days? Is this the blues or something more? Too often we can be quick to prescribe medications today when the issue may be less mental and more environmental.
According to 2015 stats from the Department of Health and Human Services, about 3 million teens ages 12 to 17 had had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. More than 2 million reported experiencing depression that impairs daily function. About 30 percent of girls and 20 percent of boys.
So before opting for the meds to balance out our kids, much of the mood mystery today could be curbed by getting back to the basics and the things we know instinctively to do as parents. I’ve watched small changes in my own home, make a big difference.
Small Changes, Big Impact.
- Less tech = health. Some doctors say treating kids with mood issues includes methodically reducing and even eliminating electronics use, which allows the nervous system to reset. By reducing technology use, kids can experience deeper sleep, better moods, increased focus, better organization, and have more energy for physical activity.
- Face-to-face = security. When social media surfing, texting, emailing, and gaming becomes the communication norm, kids suffer. While watching television is a passive activity, using electronics engages us with others consistently and without boundaries causing still-developing brains to be hyperaroused and overwork, which impacts sleep and self-control. According to Canadian Psychologist Susan Pinker in her book The Village Effect, throughout history, we need close social bonds and face-time with others to thrive—and even to survive. Creating our “village effect” makes us happier, says Pinker, and can even save our lives as we grow more and more immersed in a digital world.
- Green time = hope. Because screen time can physically deplete our senses, green time — time spent outdoors — can be a primitive, but powerful way to reduce anxiety, anger, and moodiness. A hefty dose of Vitamin D from sunlight and moving your eyes from a boxed-in screen to a boundless sky is one of mother nature’s most potent anti-depressants.
- Balance = success. Few situations improve when subjected to an everything-or-nothing remedy — especially technology limits. Rather than requiring your kids (or yourself) to endure a full-on gadget fast, opt instead, for balance. Even a tech-exchange strategy may impact your family. Exchange a half-day of tech use for a half-day hike, an hour of video games for an hour of reading, two hours of social media scrolling for two hours helping with outdoor chores. Balance wins every time, especially with summer fast approaching.
- Red flags = trouble. Don’t ignore the red flags because they rarely disappear on their own. A few red flags include a child who chooses their phone over going out with friends, studying, physical activity, and family time. Also, if your child puts up a fight when asked to turn off, or turn over, his or her tech, it’s time to make some serious changes. Everyone learns to self-medicate depression with different things — be it alcohol, drugs, tv, or food — many kids have learned to self-medicate with technology.
- Counseling = healing. The small changes we’ve discussed don’t apply when a teen’s depression goes beyond the blues. If your child’s moods or hopelessness has you worried, talk to a school counselor, therapist or doctor. It’s better to get help earlier than later. For more information on teen depression, visit the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Resource Center.