The holiday season is known as one of the most wonderful times of the year: It’s a time for hot chocolate around toasty fires, gift giving, family parties and winter festivities. While this season is supposed to be filled with happy occasions, not everyone may be feeling that way, especially teenagers.
For some teenagers, the holidays inspire sadness instead of joy.
“The holidays can bring out sadness because they’re times where people think of the past, and this time of year amplifies these feelings,” said Dr. Stephen Cosby, director of the Division of Pediatric Psychiatry and Psychology at Akron Children’s. “This can be especially trying for teenagers who may not understand why they’re sad or what to do about it.”
Below, Dr. Cosby shares 3 reasons why teenagers might be feeling blue around the holidays and what parents can do to help.
1. Personal Loss
Sadness can be equivalent to loss. Perhaps a teen’s parents went through a divorce, maybe they had a friend who died, or they broke up with their significant other. These types of situations can bring up sadness, anger and guilt for teenagers.
Engaging with teenagers and not only talking about their sadness, but also asking them questions about it, is an important way parents can guide them through understanding why they might be feeling bad.
“It starts with the parents, but other families can talk to them as well, school counselors, even someone from church,” said Dr. Cosby. “Having someone that can get to the bottom of what’s making you sad is the first step.”
2. Change in Circumstances
When you’re a teenager, certain situations change as you get older. It might be as simple as not having the same feeling of excitement around Christmas since they’re no longer looking forward to Santa, decorating the tree or baking holiday cookies.
Try planning a fun activity that your teenagers will enjoy to help them get over the sadness. Take them ice skating or sledding, especially if it’s an activity they enjoyed when they were younger. Doing activities you both enjoy together is one of the best ways for parents to understand and connect with their teenagers.
3. Social Media
Teenagers are deeply involved in social media, a technology that keeps them from connecting with their parents, especially if they aren’t willing to talk about what’s going on online. If there are social issues at school, such as cyberbullying, teenagers may receive a break from the issue over the holidays, but then eventually have to come back to school and deal with it.
Getting out of the house and away from social media can help the issue. Try taking your teenagers to see a movie or out to dinner. Consider instilling rules in the house, such as no cellphones during dinner time. If you want to connect with them online, try engaging on social media with your teenagers.
“It’s a challenge to access that part of your teenagers’ lives, but it’s important for them to keep an open dialogue with their parents,” said Dr. Cosby. “Parents need to have relationships with their teenagers.”
Sadness vs. Depression
Even though these 3 reasons can cause teenage sadness around the holidays, it’s important to understand that sadness can lead to depression.
“Sadness is situational, whereas depression is a diagnosis that is more severe” said Dr. Cosby. “With depression, you have physical symptoms, a change in appetite, a change in motivation and you can’t pay attention to your surroundings. Many times, it can be triggered by loss.”
Parents should be observant of their teenagers and notice if they appear sad or angry, are isolating themselves more than usual or are cutting themselves.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate among U.S. middle school-aged kids doubled between 2007-2014. Any time a teenager is talking about suicide and not wanting to be here, they need to see a medical professional immediately.