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How Should You Discipline a Depressed Teenager?

How should you discipline a depressed teenager? It is difficult but possible. Read these tips and information so you can discipline a teen with depression.

Learning how to discipline a teenager with depression is an important way to support your teen and help them through their illness. When a teenager experiences prolonged sadness, a loss of energy and motivation, withdrawal and isolation, and other symptoms of depression, you as their parent might want to do everything you can to make them better. You might even want to stop holding them accountable for responsibilities and behaviors; however, your child needs this accountability to grow and begin to overcome depression. The question isn’t whether or not to discipline but instead is how should you discipline a depressed teenager.  Read on to explore discipline for a teen with depression.

How to Discipline a Depressed Teenager: Healthy Discipline Tips

Depression or not, your teen is still a teen and needs discipline. Discipline means teaching and thus should be positive ("Do You Really Know How to Discipline Your Child?"). While this is true for all children and teenagers, it’s especially so for those living with depression. You can teach them your expectations for behavior and consequences for breaking those expectations, gently guiding them with depression-friendly discipline. Use these tips to begin:

  • Establish healthy rules. Having expectations for your teenager is crucial even if they’re depressed. Avoid overwhelming your teen by choosing a few straightforward rules. Consider including depression-centered rules such as requiring that your teen practice good hygiene and placing time limits on using electronics (if the only thing they want to do is lie around playing video games).
  • Require some physical activity. Exercise and movement are essential for overcoming depression, but the illness makes doing so feel impossible. Help your teen by requiring daily movement such as a walk, bike ride, or anything your teenager enjoys (or used to enjoy).
  • Provide structure. Depression makes it hard for teens to plan and engage in activities, so create a simple schedule that provides some structure. Known as behavioral activation, you and your teen can write in healthy activities, homework, chores, and time for them to kick back and play video games or use other electronic devices.
  • Give your teen chores. Give them a few chores so they can help around the house. Let them feel like part of the family and allow them to feel good for doing things—even if they grumble and protest.

Ways to Discipline a Teenager with Depression

How to discipline a teenager with depression involves having gentle expectations with clear and logical consequences. Trying to punish a depressed teen can be a disaster because the harsh and illogical consequences usually intensify withdrawal, isolation, and negative thoughts and emotions.

Avoid punishing, but do discipline—hold your teen accountable for their behaviors. It’s important to concentrate on a behavior rather than on your teen’s emotions. Because of their depression, your teen is extra sensitive. Let them know that it’s okay for them to feel what they feel and that they’re not a bad kid for having depression. When they step out of line like any other teenager, do use consequences that you already have in place.

For example, if your teenager chooses not to follow your rule requiring everyone in the family to work together to clean up after dinner, that teenager needs a consequence. Make it short-term to avoid them losing motivation to make a change. Perhaps they lose electronic privileges for the rest of the evening but not for 24 hours. Avoid consequences that can worsen their symptoms, such as sending them to their room; in this case, you want to decrease isolation, not reinforce it.

Sometimes, depression causes teens to have emotional meltdowns. They become upset, and their negative emotions become overwhelming and spill over into the teen equivalent of a toddler’s tantrum. If they have a meltdown because they don’t want to do something you have asked them to do, it’s important not to give in. Allow them to experience the emotions, and then calmly restate what they need to do, such as take a shower or go to school. Give them a consequence if they still refuse.

When you learn how to discipline a depressed teenager, you’ll be able to help shape them into a teen with character and a sense of responsibility. Even better, the structure, rules, and consequences you provide play a part in reducing their illness. You are supportively requiring that they take small steps every day that move them further and further past their depression.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2019, July 24). How Should You Discipline a Depressed Teenager?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 23 from https://www.healthyplace.com/parenting/discipline/how-should-you-discipline-a-depressed-teenager

Last Updated: August 8, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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