How Social Media is Affecting our Teens

Jan Hamilton, Founder, Doorways Teen Counseling and Psychiatric Services Phoenix ArizonaBy Jan Hamilton, MS, PMHNP

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner


Since computers starting coming into the home and video games left the arcade, parents have expressed concerns about how much is too much and how these virtual interfaces will impact the lives of our children over the long term. For years, the main concerns around overuse of electronic media have centered on physical activity levels, studying, and the effect of violent, sexist, and racist themes on young minds. Recently I was asked my thoughts on the impact things like Facebook, Twitter, and video games are having on today’s youth. My answers might surprise you.

One of the main problems that I see is an increase in teens and young adults with significant social anxiety problems that seem to stem from spending too much time interacting with a computer and not enough time interacting with actual people. I call this “Social Phobia.” This is especially pertinent for teens that are in the 12 to 15 year old range that are actively developing and refining the social skills that will help them throughout their lives.

The more time a child spends in isolation posting on Facebook, playing Xbox, chatting online, texting, and watching YouTube videos, the less time they spend interacting with their peers and families. These real-world interactions are necessary for developing social skills, understanding social protocols, and building interpersonal relationships.

What Parents Should Look For

  • Parents should trust their instincts and if they are concerned there might be a problem, seek the opinion of a professional.
  • Parents also need to make the distinction between what is normal behavior and what is healthy behavior. Your son might spend 12 hours a day playing video games which seems normal when compared to his friends, but most health professionals would agree that even if it is normal, 12 hours of video game play in a day is definitely not healthy.
  • Watch for resistance to social situations and avoidance of social interactions. If your child is having a significant emotional response to a situation that requires social interaction, there may be a social problem that needs to be addressed.

What Parents Can Do

  • The most important step parents can take is to start young. Set expectations and ground rules about media use early in childhood which will help your child develop good habits as they grow into teenagers.
  • Provide multiple social outlet opportunities for your children through church, community, sports, and educational activities. But, beware of over-scheduling, children need downtime too.
  • Don’t accommodate their anxiety; it’s ok for them to be uncomfortable in social situations because they are learning how to manage those types of interactions. Giving in and allowing them to avoid socializing only reinforces the avoidance behaviors.

7 Signs Your Teen Needs Professional Counseling

As parents of teens, sometimes it is hard to determine what could be a sign of a serious problem and what is a normal part of growing up.

7 Signs Your Teen Needs Professional Counseling

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a nationwide survey of students in grades 9 – 12 found that 16% of students reported considering suicide, 13% created a plan, and 8% reported a suicide attempt in the year preceding the survey. About 157,000 adolescents between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries across the US. How do you know what is a sign of a serious problem and when to seek professional counseling for your teen?

  1. Depression

Many teens suffer from mild depression on and off throughout adolescence, but when it persists for long periods of time or is coupled with self-esteem issues, anxiety, or tumultuous life events, it may be time to seek professional help. The Center for Young Women’s Health recommends monitoring depression signs for two weeks, and if symptoms do not lift, it is more than just sadness or mood swings.

  1. Substance Abuse

Substance abuse, an issue on its own, is often seen in conjunction with other mental health issues such as depression and low self-esteem. Your adolescent may be trying to cope with these issues by self-medication with recreational drugs, which will only make the issues worse. Anytime substance abuse is present, it is time for counseling.

  1. Eating Disorders

Signs of eating disorders are changes in eating habits, hiding food, binging and purging, or making excuses not to eat. Like many other health issues, eating disorders are often the result of other mental health problems, and can cause physical health issues as well.

  1. Angry Outbursts

An inability to control their temper or having angry outbursts over small matters are signs of larger mental health issues. It is usually a cover for emotional pain and depression, but may just be a sign that your teen has not learned healthy outlets for emotions. Either way, professional counseling may have great benefits for your adolescent in teaching them healthy coping mechanisms.

  1. Isolation

Having a social life is important for being healthy emotionally for everyone, and especially adolescents. If your teen is isolated from his or her peers, it could lead to depression and self-esteem issues. If they are isolating themselves intentionally, it could be a sign these mental health issues are already present.

  1. Physical Health Problems

Stress, depression, and anxiety can cause stomach problems, high blood pressure, and heart problems. When mental health issues are left untreated, they can cause severe physical health problems as well. These symptoms of emotional issues shouldn’t be ignored.

  1. Self-Harm

Signs of self-harm are often the biggest warning signals parents should watch out for. Whether or not a suicide attempt has taken place, self-harm is indicative of severe emotional health issues and professional counseling should be sought after.

If you think your teen’s mental health might be at stake, seek help right away. Mental health is just as important as physical health and should be taken seriously.


4 Things Every Parent Should Know About Teen Depression

Teenagers will inevitably experience mood swings, emotional outbursts, and poor behavior as their minds and bodies grow and develop. However, many teens struggle with serious depression that is long lasting, and can impact their health and happiness if it is not recognized, diagnosed, and treated early in their formative teenage years.

4 Things Every Parent Should Know About Teen Depression

As the parent of a teen, here are four things you should know about teen depression, so you can more confidently recognize the signs, and help your teen if they are suffering:

  1. What is teen depression?

Teen depression is not just occasional bad moods, sadness, or emotional struggles. Every teen is likely to experience such changes as their hormone levels change or as they experience more academic or peer pressures as a part of their natural maturing process.

According to the Mayo Clinic, teen depression is a very serious issue that affects mental health by causing consistent and constant feelings of sadness in teens. Depression can have a negative impact on mental health, physical well-being, and quickly overshadow all areas of a teen’s life.

  1. What are the symptoms or indicators of teen depression?

Teen depression can often go unnoticed due to the somewhat erratic, yet normal behaviors that teens exhibit. However, if you notice any of these symptoms in your teen, on a regular basis, then then it is likely they could be suffering from depression.

According to Mental Health America, any combination of the following symptoms lasting more than two weeks, can signal you that your teen is struggling with depression:

  • Withdrawing from family or friends
  • Performing poorly in school
  • Expressing extreme sadness or hopelessness
  • Lacking energy and motivation
  • Exhibiting anger and rage
  • Overreacting to criticism
  • Showing poor self-esteem or feelings of guilt
  • Acting restless or agitated
  • Changing their eating or sleeping habits
  • Engaging in alcohol or drug abuse
  • Expressing suicidal thoughts
  1. Is teen depression different than adult depression?

Yes, very much so. Depression in teens is not evident in the same ways you can recognize depression in adults, so it is important to understand how teens will show their struggles with depression differently.

Help Guide, a nonprofit organization dedicated to mental health and well-being, outlines the following behaviors that are specific to teen depression:

Irritability or Anger

Teens are more likely than adults to express their depression through irritable moods and angry outbursts, rather than sadness. Sustained grumpiness or frequent rage are some of the most common behaviors of depressed teens.

Unexplainable aches and body pains

Depressed teens will often complain about physical ailments such as headaches or stomachaches. If these pains occur often, for no medical reason, they could be side effects of depression.

Extreme sensitivity to criticism

Teens who suffer from depression are usually struggling with feelings of worthlessness or inadequacy, so any criticism or failure will cause an extreme reaction.

Selectively withdrawing from some people, but not others

While depressed adults will typically withdraw from everyone in their life, teens tend to be more selective. Depressed teens may keep a few friendships kindled, withdraw from parents, or change friends often.

  1. How can I help my teenager if I suspect they are depressed?

If your teenager is demonstrating ongoing signs and symptoms of depression, then it is important for you to intervene. Teens experiencing depression won’t usually come forward with their problem, so you will most likely need to bring up the topic. Remember to listen attentively and validate all of their feelings while being open, gentle, and persistent in your discussions.

If you still see signs of depression in your teen after you’ve tried to talk to them and help them, then it is a good idea to seek out professional help from a counselor or therapist who specializes in teen depression. A specialist in this field can help you and your teen resolve issues and identify stressors causing your teen to be depressed, and help you both find your way back to a happy, healthy life.

12 Stats About Teens You Need To Know Now

When worrying about our teenagers, it’s hard to know what is really worth stressing over. You know your teen better than anyone else and are much more likely to predict behavior from them.

students online on phones

However, here are some stats about teenagers that may surprise you.

Teens and the Internet

According to Pew Internet & American Life Project, teenagers ages 12 to 17 may be on the internet more and exploring more dangerous avenues than we are aware of. Though they are not always engaging in inappropriate behavior online, harassment and bullying happen more often than we would like to think, and when they are taking part in activities they know they shouldn’t, they know how to hide it from parents.

  1. 93% of teens go online regularly
  2. 27% get online using their phone
  3. 73% are on at least one social network
  4. 55% have given out personal information to someone they don’t know
  5. 29% have posted embarrassing photos, mean information, or spread rumors about someone on Facebook
  6. 88% of parents know that their teens have used the internet to talk to people they don’t know offline
  7. 67% of teens say they know how to hide online activity from their parents


Depression and Suicide

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide may be easier to predict than parents think. Depression is a serious condition that often first appears in adolescence and young adulthood, and suicide continues to be very real danger for teenagers. Learn the signs of depression and get your child help if they are showing any of the warning signs.

  1. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of dead for youth ages 12-18.
  2. 4 out of 5 teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs


Drug and Alcohol Use

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, drug and underage alcohol use and abuse is actually declining. This is something parents spend a lot of time worrying about that they may not have to. However, it is still a problem among some teenagers, and when it comes to driving, teenage accidents often involve alcohol.

  1. 7.5% of Americans 12 and older use marijuana
  2. 9.5% of youth between ages 12 to 17 abuse illegal drugs
  3. 11.6% of youth ages 12 to 17 use alcohol


From these 12 surprising stats, parents of teenagers may need to spend less time worrying about their teenagers’ partying habits and more time monitoring their mental health and making sure they are being safe online. You are the best individual to predict what your child is up to, so trust your instincts when setting boundaries and talking to your teenager about safety and health.


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Guide To Bipolar Disorder

If your teenager has just been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it can be a daunting and scary time. However, there are many resources and treatment available today to help those with bipolar disorder cope and live normal, healthy lives.

In fact, according to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, more than 6 million Americans have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The first step is to understand what it is your teenager has been diagnosed with.

Bipolar Disorder

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

According to Mental Health America, bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, it is a mental condition that involves episodes of mania and depression. Individuals diagnosed as bipolar suffer from great mood swings that usually begin in adolescence or young adulthood. No specific genetic link has been proven, but at least 80% of those who have it also have relatives that suffer from some sort of depression. It is caused by a biochemical imbalance in a person’s brain that cause alterations in their moods. This imbalance could be due to irregular hormone production or a problem with neurotransmitters.

What Symptoms Should I Expect?

Depending on the individual and specific diagnosis, different manifestations of mania and depression occur and at different rates. The symptoms of mania can last up to three months if untreated. This includes high energy, restlessness, euphoric feelings, irritability, anxiety, poor and reckless judgement, and grand plans or feeling of invincibility. A period of depression usually follows manic periods or can be triggered by life events, which is much like other depressive disorders. There is a loss of interest in activities, sadness, anxiety, change in appetite, and sometimes suicidal thoughts.


The treatment of symptoms is essential in coping with this disorder. Professionals will prescribe medication and often talk therapy with a licensed therapist is encouraged as well. Support from family and friends is extremely helpful as well, as is self help or support groups for both the individual who is suffering and the family members of someone who deals with the illness.

Receiving a diagnosis is not the end of your teenager’s life, but it does change it. The best way to cope is to become as educated as possible about the disorder and utilize all of the resources available to you when dealing with this illness. Always, if there is an emergency call 9-1-1, or if someone you love has thoughts of suicide, call 1(800)273–TALK.

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8 Natural Remedies for Teen Depression

Teens go through a lot of changes and have a lot of pressures put on them from different groups. It is not uncommon to have low periods or feelings of depression during this time. According to Mental Health America, if you are experiencing a loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy, irritability, tiredness, and prolonged sadness you can’t break out of, you may be experiencing depression. Fortunately, there are small, natural changes you can make in your daily habits that can make a big difference and help alleviate the symptoms.

Mother comforts her troubled teenage daughter

Take Care of Your Body

1. Exercising is a great positive activity to keep your mind and body occupied. It also releases endorphins, which are feel-good chemicals, into your brain and will affect you immediately. In addition, exercising boosts self confidence, especially if your depression is related to body issues.

2. Making sure you are eating right and getting the right nutrients into your body is also essential to feeling well emotionally. Eating well will help you feel better both physically and emotionally.

3. Make sure you are getting enough sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 9 ¼ hours of sleep each night for teens and adolescents. A chronic lack of sleep can make it difficult to get through each day, difficult to concentrate, and difficult to stay motivated.


Seasonal Affective Disorder

4. Make sure you are getting enough sunlight. Some people are more sensitive to light than others and get seasonal affective disorder, which means a lack of sunlight makes them depressed. This is most common in the winter months when daylight is scarce. It is especially important to get sunlight in the morning, because bright light in the morning helps keep your circadian rhythms in line with daylight hours. If it is too difficult to get true sunlight with your busy schedule, try using a “happy lamp” when you are home in the evenings, which is a light that mimics the effects of sunlight on the brain.


Take supplements

5. Getting the right nutrition is essential to maintaining mental and emotional health. Taking a multivitamin ensures your body is getting the nutrients it needs to function healthily. B vitamins are specifically linked to alleviating depression symptoms, especially folic acid and vitamin B6. A vitamin D deficiency could be part of the problem. Related to seasonal affective disorder, not getting enough sunlight could result in a lack of vitamin d and depression. Taking a D vitamin daily could remedy this problem.


Find Healthy Outlets

6. Talk to a trusted adult friend. Feeling heard and understood is a human necessity. Talking an adult you trust and know will understand will help you feel less isolated and alone. Your friend may also have some good advice about what you are going through, or have been through something similar themselves.

7. Keep a journal. Writing down your thoughts and feelings will help you make sense of what you are going through and can also be a great outlet to work through the thoughts and emotions you are not comfortable sharing with others. Through your writing, you may also start to notice patterns and realize what you are doing differently on days you feel better versus what you are doing on days you tend to feel down.

8. Try taking a break from social media. Social media can cause a negative cycle of depression. People, especially teens, need authentic human contact and companionship. Social media not only provides a pseudo social environment that does not meet these needs, but it can cause teens to compare their social lives to the lives their peers present that may or may not be accurate.


The important thing to remember if you are having symptoms of depression is that you are not alone, and there are resources available to help you. If you are experiencing serious depression that inhibits your daily living, it is important to get help from a counselor who specializes in working with teens. Everyone needs help sometimes, and working with a counselor could be the jump start you need to get back on the right track.


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7 Things Parents Probably Don’t Know About Teen Depression

teen depression

As those with depression can feel like they are sinking into themselves, know the warning signs of teen depression (photo credit:

People often have a picture in their mind of what depression “looks like” but when that picture doesn’t line up with reality, it can keep people from getting the help that they need.  This is especially true when talking about teenagers who are dealing with depression.  Many parents simply don’t have the information they need to know when their teenager is acting out, like teenagers do, and when their behavior indicates a bigger problem.

More than half of all teenagers with mental health issues go untreated, it is important for parents to educate themselves about mental health issues during the teen years so they have the information they need to help their child if it becomes necessary.  To aid in that education, here are 7 things most parents don’t know about teen depression.

  1. Being “Depressed” and Having Depression are Different Things

Depression isn’t the angsty, moody behavior many teenagers experience on their way from adolescent to adult.  Teenagers are often overly dramatic and their responses to things can be over the top but these things are temporary.  Depression is not.  It is an overwhelming, pervasive, all-encompassing feeling of sadness and hopelessness.

  1. Depression Wears Many Masks

Most parents expect depression in teens to look like it is portrayed in television and film, with lots of crying and wearing of black.  But in truth, teens experience depression in different ways.  Some may be irritable or angry all the time.  Others may withdraw from friends and activities or change their sleeping or eating habits.  It won’t always look the way you expect it to.

  1. Depression Doesn’t Usually Go Away on its Own

While it can happen, depression in teens doesn’t usually go away by itself.  This is actually one of the red flags parents can look for if they suspect something is wrong.  Where moodiness and drama will come and go, depression sticks around.

  1. Depression Hurts

You have probably seen the commercials that use that for their tag line and this is just as true for teens as it is for adults.  Depression can cause real, lasting physical symptoms that make it even more challenging for teens to deal with their everyday lives.  Common physical symptoms include headaches, unexplained body aches, and stomach ailments.

  1. Depression Cripples Self Esteem

Teens who are struggling with depression can become oversensitive to any kind of reprimand, criticism, or rejection.  This kind of feedback from the world around them, including friends, parents, teachers, and coaches, feeds the feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness caused by the depression.

  1. Teens Don’t Always Pull Away from Everyone

Many adults with depression will pull away from everything and everyone in their lives.  This is not always true for teens.  Some teenagers will pull away from specific people while maintaining or creating new relationships with others.

  1. Depression Can Be Devastating

Depression is talked about so frequently in today’s society that we can overlook just how impactful it can be on the lives of those who struggle with it.  For teenagers, the impact can be devastating right now and for the rest of their lives.  This condition can cause problems with grades and attendance, affecting their overall school performance and impacting their college opportunities.  They may run away, use drugs or alcohol, or participate in other self-destructive behaviors that can lead to legal problems, violence, and other life-changing experiences.  This is why it is so important that parents know how to identify the signs of depression in their teens and do whatever is necessary to get them the help they need.



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The ABCs of Children’s Mental Health

Mental Health Resources

Here are some great resources to help you understand the ABC’s of mental health (photo credit:

May is Children’s Mental Health Month which is a great time to talk about where parents can find more information about the mental health conditions their adolescents may be struggling with. While there is no substitute for the expertise and information provided by a qualified mental health practitioner, this version of the ABCs can help parents learn more about the mental health conditions commonly seen in teenagers so they have the information they need in order to know when it is time to seek help, what questions to ask, and how to ensure their child or teenager gets the mental health support and services they need.


Bipolar Disorder

  • Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens: A Parent’s Guide from the National Institute of Mental Health
  • Children and Teens with Bipolar Disorder from
  • Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology
  • Children and Adolescents with Bipolar Disorder from the National Alliance on Mental Illness


Cutting and Self Harm

  • Understanding Teen Cutting and Self Injury from
  • Self Injury and Cutting from the Mayo Clinic
  • Self Injury in Adolescents from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology
  • A Silent Cry for Help: Understanding Self Harm from Psychology Today


Eating Disorders

Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in Children and Adolescents from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology
  • OCD in Children and Teens from the International OCD Foundation
  • Child and Adolescent OCD from the National Alliance on Mental Illness
  • OCD in Teens from Beyond OCD

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Suicide Prevention

  • Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide website
  • Preventing Youth Suicide – Tips for Parents and Educators from the National Association of School Psychologists
  • Teen Suicide is Preventable from the American Psychological Association
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
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7 Things Parents Should Know about Teenage Depression

Make sure you know these 7 things about teenage depression (photo credit:

Make sure you know these 7 things about teenage depression (photo credit:

Depression in teenagers doesn’t always look the way we, as parents, expect it to.  Sometimes the symptoms of depression can look a lot like normal teenage angst which means it goes undiagnosed.  But getting teens who are dealing with depression the help they need is critical because depression impacts all areas of their life and if left untreated it can result in serious long-term problems.  Here are some of the important facts about teenage depression that parents need to know in order to recognize the signs in their own child and to know what steps to take to get them the help they need.

1.     Depression isn’t Moodiness

Every teenager has down days and bad moods.  Teenagers may be overly dramatic or overreact to situations that don’t seem that serious to us.  They may rebel, act out, or seem annoyed by everything we do or say.  All of these things are normal during the teenage years.  Depression is different.  Depression isn’t about having a moody weekend or being bummed out about a bad test.  Depression is more pervasive, more overwhelming, more encompassing.

2.     Depression Doesn’t Always Look the Way We Expect

Teenagers don’t always act the way we expect them to and this holds true when it comes to teenagers who are suffering with depression.  You may expect them to be sad, to cry a lot, or to seem down all the time.  While some teens may experience these, others can seem very irritable, be angry at the world, and even display fits of rage.  Teenagers may also withdraw from friends, quit favorite activities, and experience changes in eating and sleeping habits.

3.     Depression Sticks Around

One red flag for parents is when teenagers seem to have a personality change or to be displaying the signs of depression for a long period of time.  This is one of the ways parents can differentiate between normal teenage moodiness and actual depression.  Moodiness comes and goes, depression doesn’t.

4.     Depression Can Cause Physical Symptoms

One of the ways that depression can look different in teens than it does in adults is the presentation of physical symptoms.  Teenagers may complain of aches and pains that have no source.  They may get frequent headaches or feel sick to their stomach with no medical explanation.

5.     Depression Can Increase Sensitivity

While it may seem like a teenager dealing with depression doesn’t care about much including what other people think, they can become very sensitive to any kind of criticism or rejection as these reinforce the sense of worthlessness they are already experiencing.

6.     Depression Can Cause Selective Withdrawal

Another way that depression can look different in teens is that teens don’t tend to pull away from everyone in their lives, unlike adults.  Teenagers may pull away from family members or change the group of friends they hang out with but do not always withdraw from all interpersonal relationships.

7.     Depression Can Lead to Real Problems

The consequences for teenagers whose depression goes untreated can be severe.  Depressed teenagers can have difficulties in school like poor attendance and failing grades.  They may run away from home, begin using/abusing drugs or alcohol, develop an eating disorder, participate in self-harming activities like cutting, become violent, or attempt suicide.  If you suspect your teenager may be depressed, seek the assistance of a mental health provider who can help you determine the right steps to take to get your teenager the help they need.