So, where do we start?
Living with teenagers of both genders, I know that they are both at the mercy of the same hormonal imbalances and these cause them to respond in very different ways.
For parents coping with teenagers, the world can be full of statistics designed to put the fear of God into you. Research shows that over a million kids in the UK aged between five and 16 have clinically diagnosed mental health problems caused by peer pressure/bullying, academic demands, pushy parents or unhappy home life.
The symptoms to watch out for in younger children include bedwetting or soiling, temper tantrums, and clinginess but, as they get older, these can present as obsessional behavior and compulsive rituals, trichotillomania (hair, eyelash, and eyebrow pulling), sudden aggression and eating disorders.
The advent of puberty means that these behaviors will start to conform to gender – girls are more self-destructive and prone to eating disorders or physical self-harm, whilst boys will deflect any stress outwards in the form of violence and aggression.
Whilst there will still be male anorexics and female rebels, research shows that self-harm affects every third teenage girl. Whether it is mutilation or other violent self-abuse (like throwing themselves against walls or downstairs), anorexia or bulimia, as a parent any of these is a frightening proposition.
In both cases, sufferers show an increase of drink and drug use which makes the feelings of depression worse leading to a young person who is no longer in control.
One of the most disturbing things in trying to deal with teenagers and depression is the role of the family doctor. The law for children under 18 but over 16 allows them certain freedoms from the natural restraints of their parents, especially when it concerns their health.
Just as with contraception and abortion, if that teen goes to the doctor with the ‘symptoms’ of depression and asks for pharmaceutical help without alerting the parents, the medical professional can invoke doctor/patient privilege and send your child home with a prescription for an anti-depressant without your knowledge.
Adolescents can be highly compelling when they want to be instamp3. They can appear completely coherent and aware but their perception of the world around them is skewed and they will utter an outright untruth in answer to important questions because they believe it to be true. With these juveniles, doctors have to work based on ‘informed consent’ and, whilst a young person can appear very mature, all the relevant information may not have been fully disclosed.
This means that not only is your child self-harming because they are depressed, but you are unaware that they are taking prescription drugs in addition to whatever other substances they use to self-medicate and they have the tacit permission of a trusted authority figure that it is ok to do so.
You are balancing on a tightrope whilst trying to deal with a child who is disturbed and all you can do is keep the lines of communication open and continue to assure them that you love them at all times.