Are Our Kids Ok?
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David Murray explains most teens go through spells of quietness and withdrawal, but it won’t last long. If your teen is totally uncommunicative or alludes to suicide, seek professional help.
Are Our Kids Ok?
Bob: When an adolescent or a young adult begins to experience significant issues with depression or with anxiety, pastor and biblical counselor, David Murray, says there is a long path ahead for that young person and for their family.
David: I know nobody likes to hear this in America—it’s like: “quick fix; instant solutions,”—no, this is not going to be quick; this is not going to be instant, but it’s going to be good. Every single person that I’ve walked through depression/anxiety with has come out the other end: more resilient, deeper in their faith, more sympathetic, more caring, more sensitive, and more useful in the kingdom of God.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, October 29th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. We’ll map out for you today the path to follow if you find a son or a daughter wrestling with significant depression or anxiety. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I think, for a lot of moms and dads, they are hearing what we’re talking about this week and they are turning up the radio—
Ann: They want to hear this.
Bob: —and saying, “We need help,” because they’ve seen things that have caused them to wonder—
Ann: —and worry.
Bob: —“Are our kids okay?”—like the child who, after dinner, goes to her room and never comes out. If you go in and say, “You doing okay?” she goes, “Yes, I’m fine,”—and that’s it—it’s like there is no connection. You feel/you start to worry/you get anxious yourself, as a parent, “What’s going on with my kids?”
Dave: Oh, I think it’s one of the hardest things when you see anxiety in your children. It’s bad enough in yourself—and it’s bad—but when you see it in somebody else and you can’t really solve it—boy, oh boy—that’s why this program is that important.
Ann: I think, too, at one of our local high schools, the suicide/the number of suicides in this one high school has escalated. All of the parents are talking about it; and deep down, every parent is a little worried about it.
Bob: Yes; the issues of anxiety and depression are escalating.
We’ve got David Murray joining us to help us sort this out, as parents, and to help us know what to do if our kids are experiencing this. David, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
David: Thanks, Bob. It’s good to be here.
Bob: David is a pastor; he is an author. He, for years, has been a seminary professor at Puritan Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids. He and his wife have dealt personally with issues of anxiety and depression. David has just written a book called Why Am I Feeling Like This? for teenagers to help them with issues of anxiety and depression; and then a book for parents, Why Is My Teenager Feeling Like This?
Maybe, we should separate anxiety and depression. They are not the same; they are different, but they are linked; right?
David: Yes; that’s a tricky one; isn’t it? It’s about 50 percent of cases of anxiety also have depression—so much so that a lot of physicians nowadays will just talk about depression/anxiety as if it’s one problem—but it is important to separate them, because you can be anxious without being depressed and vice versa.
You might, if you want to simplify it, say, “Anxiety is like when you our revs are way too high, and you can’t get them down; and depression is when your revs are way too low, and you can’t get them up.” It’s strange that, in the one person, you can have both problems. It does tend to go in a cyclical way; often, anxiety comes first—wears out the person/exhausts them—and eventually, they slump into a depression. Then that often comes with weird bodily symptoms as well that people experience, which makes them anxious. You get into this horrible, vicious circle.
Bob: I remember our teens going through seasons, where they were kind of emotionally flat—like I described—they’d go to their room; they’d read; they just don’t want a whole lot of social interaction. As a parent, you feel like, “Is there something wrong? Are they depressed? Is there something I should be doing?” How can we know, as parents, whether we’ve got a real issue or whether this is just kind of normal adolescent behavior?
David: It’s tricky because, as you said, normal teens go through times of quiet and withdrawal. I think every teen does to some degree. I think the thing is not to leave it too long/not to just assume everything is fine. Teens don’t want you jumping on them every time they go to their room for a day or two; but if that goes to three/four—especially a week and more—then, I think we want to start trying to initiate a conversation.
It’s often best not to knock on the door [knocking sound], “What’s wrong with you? Come here!”; but initiate: “Let’s go for a walk,” “Let’s go for a meal,” and just have a casual, relaxed talk about everything; and then, hopefully, zero in and create a context in which we can begin to talk about these issues that kids do find it very hard to talk about. You’re trying to create a time, a place, an atmosphere—especially nonjudgmental/non-condemning. If you can, even, talk honestly about your own challenges and struggles, as a teen; because often, teens look at their parents and think, “Man, they’ve got it all figured out. They’re perfect; they never had this.”
You’re just trying to find ways of opening that conversation up. Actually, if you get that—and in most cases you will if you go about it wisely—you’re like 50 percent of the way there; because it’s the hardest thing to get that conversation going. But once you get it going, you really have/you’ve almost climbed the highest hill. There are still hills ahead, but this is the hardest one to go.
Dave: So coach me through—if I see something in my son or daughter, and I’m thinking, like Bob said, “They are going to their room…”/—whatever—I don’t start with: “Hey, I think you’re depressed.” [Laughter] Don’t do that?—[Laughter]
Dave: —that’s judgment? [Laughter]
David: I think you’re wise enough to know that’s not right. [Laughter]
Dave: I don’t know; I’m just throwing it out there. So what’s a better approach? How do I get them talking?
David: I think to have that relationship, first of all, with your kids—now is not the time to start a relationship; right?—so, hopefully, you’ve built that ability to connect over the years; you’ve got some capital in the bank with them, as it were. I think that’s the first thing.
Secondly, I think just try and engage activities—something relaxing/get outside—and just normalize a day out, or an afternoon out, or an evening out and just talk about life in general. Try and gradually come closer and closer to these fears you have. I think questions like/just: “I hear a lot about the challenges teens are having today. I want to help. If you’re having any challenges yourself, just use me as a resource. I don’t have all the answers, but I might have some that I can help you with. I might be able to point you to someone.”
I’m not saying that: “Oh! Every teen is just going to drop their barriers first time out”; but I think you do that—as a habit/you get into something regular like that—then, eventually, you will break through. You’ll begin to deepen these conversations. You’re trying to create a culture/long-term culture. To go back to habits—I’ve found Saturday morning breakfasts just a great place to connect with my sons, especially. They are very busy through the week, but taking them out for a good west Michigan breakfast and just—it’s just seems a very normal, natural thing to do. You just like get into stuff, and you begin to talk about really good man-to-man stuff.
Bob: Well, especially—think about it—if there are things that you know your son or daughter generally likes to do, and you can say, “Hey, I was thinking maybe Saturday we could go fishing,” because you know they love to go fishing. Even a child, who might be dealing with discouragement or depression, might go, “Well, yes; I’d kind of like to go do go-karts,”—or play golf or whatever it is that is their thing—go out and do that, and just see if that dislodges some of this.
I think my question is: “When do you start to get really concerned, as a parent, and go, ‘This is more than just evening walks and good west Michigan breakfast’?” [Laughter]
David: Well, if you are getting anything that is not communication—there is total withdrawal/there is isolation from friends—if you’re beginning to pick up hints of/they’ll maybe drop lines out like: “It’d be better if I wasn’t here,” “I’m just a burden to you,” “This world is not worth living for,”—
Bob: —“I wish I had never been born.”
David: Yes, things like that: “I’m of no value,” “I’m worthless,” “Nobody likes me.” Now, one these things on their own is, maybe, not such a big deal; but you’re beginning to hear a pattern, and you want to then take steps.
I would say, maybe, professional help at that point. As a parent, you’re not really equipped; but you bring in, maybe a doctor/maybe a pastor. If, though, it gets to the point where you believe your teen is on the verge of taking their life—this is blue lights flashing; this is not something for amateurs—you need to get them to the hospital, or you need to get the hospital to them. Don’t risk hoping for the best.
Bob: Do we go to the doctor first? Because I’m talking to parents, who will go to the doctor; he’ll say, “Yes; I see signs of depression. Here is a prescription for this.” The parent goes, “Okay; they’ll take their pills, and it will all be better.”
David: You know, ideally, you want a team. I’ve always encouraged that with people. The parents are critical members of the team; a doctor; hopefully, your pastor is sensitive and sympathetic—I think you’d need to test that first, because some are not—a good counselor: a Christian counselor/a biblical counselor. Maybe, if it’s especially complex, eventually, then you would go for some professional psychology/psychiatric help.
You’re trying to address this from a number of angles. You’re recognizing limitations, and you’re recognizing the need to bring in skills from different trained and experienced people. There is no silver bullet for this. If it causes such complex problems, we have to build a number of factors in. And nothing ever goes smoothly—you try one doctor/you don’t get much help; you try someone else/you get help—you’ve got to patiently work ahead at this.
That’s why I really encourage pastors to have these things at their fingertips so that, when families come, they say: “Okay; here is the doctor,” “He is the counselor,” “Here is the psychologist that we need to get involved in this.” You’ve already got tested resources that you can bring in as part of this team.
Bob: Your books—the one for teens and the one for parents—outline a number of different scenarios/case studies, basically—because anxiety and depression can look very different. For some children, it may be going to their room and withdrawing. Anxiety can look very different in terms of a hyper-excitism in a child. Give us the common scenarios of how it’s going to manifest itself among teenagers.
David: I think if you think of depression in girls, it often manifests itself by a lot of irrational crying. That was the case with my wife—just overwhelming sadness, which, when you ask about [it], “I don’t know why [I’m crying.]” In guys, it’s often irrational anger. There’s not a strict divide, but speaking generally here.
You’re also looking for sleeplessness. With both depression and anxiety, insomnia is usually an accompaniment to that—either not getting to sleep, waking up very early in the morning, very broken sleep; so there is general exhaustion—demotivation: incapable of actually just doing your daily duties/going to school; you see grades plummeting—something like that. They are no longer participating in sports at all; they are withdrawing from friends; and just a general sense of hopelessness and fear about the future.
Dave: You see that, as parent—I mean, that’s like panic mode—
Dave: —you know, if I am watching my son or daughter do that, I’m thinking the worst. What do I do?
David: There isn’t just one thing you do; it’s a series/usually, a long series of steps. You have to look at this as a minimum of six months and probably closer to one to two years, especially in the teen years. You’ve got a lot of hormonal issues going on as well. The rates for anxiety and depression in girls are much higher than for boys—double just about—so we’re trying to take a realistic approach.
I know nobody likes to hear this in America—it’s like: “quick fix/instant solutions”—no, this is not going to be quick; this is not going to instant, but it’s going to be good. There is good at the end of this. Every single person that I’ve walked through depression/anxiety with has come out the other end: more resilient, deeper in their faith, and more useful in the kingdom of God, more sympathetic, more caring, more sensitive.
I’m not saying everyone I’ve walked with has come out the other end; I’m talking about those who have used all the means that God has provided. Because some people just say, “Well, I’m only going to take pills”; some people just say, “I’m just going to read my Bible,”—well, I’m sorry; that probably won’t work—you need to take all of God’s helps. He’s provided multiple helps—physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, relational helps—put that all together; and at the other end, you have a better kid, and you have better parents; because you’re humbled; you’re dependent; and you’ve actually been brought closer to your kids in the process as well. You’ve formed a bond that will last lifelong.
Bob: I know, as a parent, if a teen is going through something like this, we are praying for our kids regularly. Should we be engaging with them around the Scriptures?—even if they are saying—do we go on and say, “Can I just read this passage to you?” “Can I just ask you some questions?”—they say, “I’m not interested,”—coach us on that side of things.
David: Whether the problem is primarily spiritual, or primarily physical, or primarily a providence in their life—whatever it is—the Bible has got to be at the center of recovery. It’s through Bible and prayer that God comes to us, and we need God. Whether we are taking medications, whether we are getting counseling, whether we are trying to exercise more, take a weekly Sabbath, we need God’s blessing and presence in all of these areas.
We need to bring God in, whatever the cause. And we need to really help teens change their worldview effectively—that’s what the Bible does—so a teen, in the midst of depression/anxiety, has usually a very, very small view of the world; in fact, it is usually these four letters: S-E-L-F—that’s all they see—self. One of the great challenges is to get them turned inside out and just begin to look beyond themselves: yes, to their family; yes, to their friends; yes, to the wider culture/the church; but above all, to God. Get God into their view of the world, their perspective, their sense of who they are.
We talk in the book about identity issues and how we’ve got to get that from God. As soon as we bring God in, it does shrink our problem a bit; because we see how great God is, and we see how gracious He is in providing all of these resources. “How do we practically do this?” is the question.
Well, what we don’t do is—like read chapters a day. Depressed and anxious people: if they can get a couple of verses a day, that’s a triumph often; but we’ve got to believe in the power of God’s Word—that even a verse or two a day is powerful—over time, accumulates to recreate their sense of self, their sense of the world, their sense of who God is. That’s why I usually encourage teens to do; in the book, I do give some tips on how to start a daily Bible reading plan that does start with a verse or two a day. Try to do it in the same place at the same time every day. Shut off the phone, even if it is five minutes—five minutes undistracted with God is worth gold.
David: Make that a habit; and all these small regular engagements and meetings with God will begin to change a person, and their view of themselves, and their thinking.
Ann: We have a son who has ADD, and he was never on medication. We kind of chose just to do some practical things of helping through it. He went to college to get an engineering degree and found the stress level overwhelming in terms of trying to get through. He said, “I think I’m going to go on some medication to help me lock in to study.”
He went on a medication—he studied it/we had studied it—but it sent him into some depression. That scared him; so he went off it instantly, which made it worse—and he didn’t know it/we didn’t know it—he’d gone off of it instantly. He came home from college one semester—never left the couch—I had never seen him like that. He was crying; I’ve never/I don’t think I had seen him cry in quite a while. I was so concerned.
I think what happened is it created a culture of talking. He was/he was probably a little more quiet than the other boys, but just asking him questions once in a while. I was amazed how putting my hand on him, and praying over him, and praising God for who he was and what I saw in him, and what God had good things for his future—I was amazed at how needy he was for that. How before—maybe, in high school—he was, “Whatever, Mom,”—but at this point, he was kind of desperate for anything.
I think that we forget the power we have, as parents, of just empathizing, praying over our kids, laying our hands on them, speaking hope for them, and a future over them. I think that’s powerful, too, to add to it.
David: That’s beautiful, Ann; that’s just a beautiful story. It’s hard to go through—but, yes, I think you see there, in the way you tell that—how God has used it in your life and your son’s life as well.
I remember sometimes sitting with my wife, when she was in tears; and I’d be reasoning. [Laughter] She’d eventually say, “Would you just put your arm around me, please?”
David: Yet, it’s sometimes the simple things: acceptance/understanding—not condemning, not expressing disappointment, not saying, “You’re messing up my life,”—you know?—“This is not what we envisaged.”
Ann: —or “You’re making us look bad.”
David: —“You’re making us look bad.”
Ann, I have to be honest. I was a pastor at the time when Shona came down with her depression. In Scotland, there was a lot of stigma then, back in 2001. We didn’t tell anyone; because we thought, “You know, how will people view our ministry? The pastor’s wife is depressed. What kind of pastor…”/”What kind of ministry…”
Ann: “What kind of husband is she married to?”
David: “What kind of a husband…”—exactly. I mean, maybe, people say that anyway. [Laughter] Looking back, it was a horrendous mistake, not only because it stopped us getting help earlier, but it also prevented huge opportunities for ministry. I actually wouldn’t be here today in America: teaching, counseling, and writing books about anxiety and depression if it wasn’t for the fact that, ultimately, we went public; the story resonated.
When you’re telling that story, I’m sure listeners are just going to click with that. They’ve got a teen on their couch right now; and you’ve just given them just the simplest, doable thing that can make such a difference.
Bob: Well, what you’re giving us is, not only wisdom, but also a tool we can use if we’ve got a son or a daughter, who is battling with anxiety or depression. The book that David has written is called Why Am I Feeling Like This?: A Teen’s Guide to Freedom from Anxiety and Depression. It’s not just a book that you buy and then put on your son or daughter’s bed and say, “Here, read this”; there is also a book that David has written for us, as parents, Why Is My Teenager Feeling Like This?; because this is a path you are going to need to walk together with your son or your daughter. Get a copy of both of these books if this is a reality in your home.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order either of David’s books. You can order them from us online, or you can call if you’d prefer; our number is 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, David’s books are called Why Am I Feeling Like This?: A Teen’s Guide to Freedom from Anxiety and Depression and then, for parents, Why Is My Teenager Feeling Like This?: A Guide for Helping Teens through Anxiety and Depression. Order both books from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order: 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, anxiety and depression are not simply teenage issues. All of us can go through seasons, where this is a reality in our lives. For a lot of people right now, in 2020, there is a lot going on that can cause you to become anxious or depressed, especially for people who are dealing with unemployment as a result of the economic issues in 2020.
Earlier this week, we talked with Dale Kreienkamp, who has written a devotional for people, who are unemployed. It’s called How Long, O Lord, How Long? We’re making that devotional available today to anyone who can make a donation to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today and help us extend the reach of this ministry. In fact, we want to encourage you, who are still employed, to think about people you know, who may have lost a job and are trying to make sense of life right now. Make a donation; get them a copy of this book. Give it to them as a gift as a way of expressing your love, and your care, and your concern for them.
Again, your donations will go directly toward helping cover the costs of producing and syndicating this radio program so it can be heard by more people more often. We thank you for your partnership in that. You can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. Ask for your copy of Dale Kreienkamp’s book when you get in touch with us. Thanks for partnering with us in the outreach ministry of FamilyLife Today. We appreciate you.
We hope you can join us, again, tomorrow. We’re going to talk more about teenage anxiety and depression and look at how the Book of Psalms is a great place where we can find encouragement, and help, and rest, and peace when we’re battling with depression and anxiety. David Murray joins us again tomorrow. We hope you can join us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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