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How to Discipline a Depressed Teenager and Help Them

Adolescence is a period of unique growth and development, making teenagers more vulnerable to mental health problems when they experience physical, emotional, and social changes.

There are 13 strategies to help parents discipline and support a teenager grappling with depression, including setting clear goals, reflecting on priorities, using inductive discipline, building relationships, improving sleep habits, encouraging physical activities, and more.

Avoid common pitfalls in communication, such as dismissing their condition, trivializing their pain, guilt-tripping, and using unhelpful platitudes. To help your depressed teenager get out of bed in the morning, encourage them to develop good sleeping habits.

depressed teenage boy sits on floor holding a cellphone

Here are 13 ways to discipline and help a depressed teenager.

1. Define your goals

Start by clarifying your goals in interacting with your teenager. It’s not just about ensuring compliance with rules but also about how you want to support your teenager’s mental well-being. While you may be busy earning a living or managing household responsibilities to cater to your family’s physical needs, don’t overlook your teenager’s emotional needs.

2. Reflect on priorities

Make a list of expectations you have for your teenager. Then, take a moment to reflect on each point. Consider how these expectations align with supporting your teenager’s mental and emotional well-being. This process can help you prioritize what’s truly important.

3. Discipline to teach

Discipline is most effective when it focuses on education and guidance rather than punishment. Not punishing doesn’t mean your teen gets a “free pass” for misbehavior. Teaching through understanding, patience, and love often proves to be far more effective. A study conducted by Ohio State University in 2012 supports this approach, finding that teenagers whose parents practiced inductive discipline, which involves reasoning and discussion, exhibit higher moral identity and more prosocial behavior.

To apply these principles, engage in open conversations with your teenager. Strive to understand their perspective and the challenges they face with specific rules.​1​ Explain the reasons for your rules. Most rules are made to protect children, not limit them, and your teenager needs to understand that to appreciate those boundaries.

4. Strengthen relationship

Having a close parent-child relationship can simplify discipline. When your child feels connected to you, they become more receptive to guidance and care about what you care about. Strengthening your relationship can also improve their emotional connection, helping your teen fight depression.

5. Improve sleep habits

Help your teen maintain a healthy sleep schedule. A study using 2007 and 2009 data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that teens sleeping less than 5 hours or more than 10 hours were at a higher risk for suicidal ideation, planned suicide, and attempted suicide. Depression can disrupt sleeping patterns. Help your teen maintain a consistent sleep schedule of 8 hours and avoid screen time before bedtime.​2,3​

6. Help them get sunlight

Sunlight helps with depression and cognitive function by influencing the body’s serotonin, melatonin, and circadian rhythms that control the sleep cycles.​4​

7. Insist on exercise

In 2016, a joint research between the University of Nottingham and the University of Thessaly, reviewing 11 studies, revealed that teenagers engaging in regular exercise showed reduced levels of sadness and suicidal thoughts. However, depression can make exercising seem overwhelming. Help your teen by encouraging daily physical activities like walking, which is more manageable.​5​ Taking a walk outdoors also exposes your teen to more sunlight.

8. Explore mindfulness

Mindfulness practices, such as mindful breathing or meditation, can reduce depressive symptoms. In a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, scientists found that mindfulness was correlated with reduced rumination and negative bias.​6​

9. Schedule pleasant activities

Having regular positive interactions with the environment helps alleviate depression. A 2006 meta-analysis of sixteen studies with 780 subjects conducted at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam found that scheduling positive activities, or behavioral activation, positively impacted depression.​7​

10. Keep social connections

Encourage your depressed teen to maintain connections with their friends instead of isolating themselves. Motivate your child to engage in activities with their friends.

11. Help your teen get treatment

Remind and help your teenager attend their medical appointments, follow the doctor’s instructions, and take their daily medication.

12. Avoid saying hurtful things

In their desperate attempts to comfort their teens, parents may end up saying things that make their teens’ depression worse rather than better. A healthy person may have difficulty imagining what kind of mental pain a depressed person feels. It is alright not to understand. Acceptance and love are what teenagers with depression want.

13. Be supportive

Showing your love is the best way to support your depressed teen.

What is the best way to help a depressed teenager?

The best way to help a depressed teenager is to show your love for them. Here are 5 suggestions on how to show your love.​8​

  1. “I love you”: Say it. It’s just that simple. When your child is sad, it is tempting to say many things to help comfort them. But simply showing your love is enough to make them feel better.
  2. Hug them: Hugging can increase oxytocin, the “love hormone,” and help your child feel better. A 2011 study at the University of Miami reveals positive touches, such as hugging and massage, can reduce depression.
  3. Sit with them: A depressed teen may not want to talk. Don’t feel obligated to say something. Just be there with them.
  4. Let them cry on your shoulder: It’s instinctive for parents to seek ways to comfort their children when they see their kids in tears. It’s as though by stopping the crying, the depression will be alleviated as well. However, tears aren’t making them sad. They’re just an expression of their sadness. Lend them your shoulder to cry on and let them know you care.
  5. Check-in with them: Check in regularly to let them know you are thinking of and caring about them.
what not to say to a depressed teenager

What not to say to a depressed teenager?

Avoid saying things that dismiss your teenager’s condition, trivialize their pain, pretend nothing happens, guilt-trip them, condemn them, or use platitudes. Here are 21 examples of what not to say to a depressed teenager.

  1. “Just don’t think about it.”
  2. “I know how you feel.”
  3. “It’s not that bad.”
  4. “It’s all in your head.”
  5. “You’ll be fine.”
  6. “You’ll get over it.”
  7. “We all have stress. Just deal with it like everyone else.”
  8. “It’s ok. It’ll pass.”
  9. “Many people have worse problems.”
  10. “You think you have it bad.”
  11. “You’re just spoiled.”
  12. “Think about others, not just yourself.”
  13. “Just get out of bed and do something.”
  14. “What are you depressed about? You have everything.”
  15. “Stop whining.”
  16. “Just pick yourself up.”
  17. “You can choose to be happy.”
  18. “Try to think positive.”
  19. “Take some vitamins.”
  20. “Just snap out of it.”
  21. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Why doesn’t dismissing the condition help your teenager feel better?

Dismissing the condition doesn’t help your teenager feel better because a major depressive disorder is an illness, not a temporary feeling of sadness that you can use your willpower to forget.

You may think that the depression will disappear eventually if your teen thinks it’s not there. However, clinical depression is an illness that requires medical care, just like cancer or diabetes​9​. Diabetics cannot think away their diabetes. Depressed patients cannot think away their mental illness, either. Saying things to dismiss the condition doesn’t make it go away. It only makes you look apathetic to your teen’s pain.

Why does trivializing pain hurt your teenager?

Trivializing your teenager’s pain hurts because belittling makes the pain bigger, not smaller.

You may think that minimizing their pain and it will go away. However, the more you invalidate your teenager’s pain, the more painful it becomes, and the more depressed they are​10​.

Why doesn’t guilt-tripping help your teenager get a better perspective?

Guilt-trip doesn’t help your teenager get a better perspective because one person’s pain does not negate another’s pain.

You may hope that comparing will help your child realize they shouldn’t be depressed. However, people don’t choose to be depressed any more than they choose to have cancer. You can’t make cancer go away by comparing it with another sickness. It’s the same for depression.

Suffering is not a competition. When you try to offer your child a new perspective by drawing comparisons, it implies that their struggles are insignificant compared to the hardships others face. This approach, again, trivializes their distress and is another form of invalidation that will only make your teen feel worse​11​.

Why doesn’t pretending nothing happens help your sad teenager feel better?

Pretending nothing happens doesn’t help your sad teenager feel better because it hurts to know that “Your parents don’t care about you.”

You may think that your child will not dwell on their depression if you pretend nothing happens. However, your child cannot help the sad feelings. Depression in teen boys or girls is not a choice or an active decision. If you pretend nothing happens and bury your head in the sand, all your teenager sees is that their parents don’t care. If someone who should love you doesn’t care about your pain, you would be depressed, too. A study shows that depression is exacerbated by parental indifference​12​.

Why is condemning not the way to help depressed teenagers?

Condemning is not the way to help depressed teenagers because it makes teenagers feel worthless and ashamed. It may seem a good way to get your teen to “snap out of it.” However, these feelings can deepen their depression or, worse, trigger suicidal thoughts​13​.

Why are platitudes frustrating for your depressed teenager?

Using platitudes is frustrating because it implies expecting your teen boy or girl to feel something beyond their current emotional capacity.

You may think that you are offering hope to your depressed teenager. However, one of the characteristic depression symptoms is the loss of hope​14​. It is difficult for depressed patients to see the hope you offer in these cliches.

What to say to a depressed teenager?

Here are 7 things to say to a depressed teenager to show that you care.

  1. “I love you.”
  2. “I care about you.”
  3. “I’m here for you.”
  4. “Let me know how I can help.”
  5. “You are very important to me.”
  6. “I love you for who you are.”
  7. “It must be tough. I can’t imagine how you feel, but I’m here to help if you need me.”

How to get a depressed teenager out of bed

To get a depressed teenager out of bed, help them improve their “sleep hygiene.” Here are 11 tips to help teens develop good sleeping habits.

  1. Maintain a regular sleep schedule: Set the same bedtime and wake-up time every day, even on weekends.
  2. Get enough sleep: Get 8-10 hours of sleep every day.
  3. Create a restful environment: Ensure the bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool (low but comfortable temperature). Use comfortable bedding and minimize noise and light.
  4. Limit screen time before bedtime: Reduce electronic devices like smartphones, tablets, and computers before bed, as blue light can interfere with the ability to fall asleep.
  5. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon: Caffeine is a stimulant and can disrupt sleep.
  6. Limit alcohol and heavy dinners: Alcohol can interfere with the sleep cycle, and heavy meals can cause discomfort.
  7. Exercise regularly: Regular physical activity can help a person fall asleep faster and enjoy deeper sleep but do not exercise too close to bedtime.
  8. Manage stress: Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to help manage stress.
  9. Establish a nighttime routine: Engage in calming activities before bed, such as reading, taking a warm bath, or listening to soothing music, to signal the body that it’s time to wind down.
  10. Avoid long naps: Limit naps to 20-30 minutes earlier during the day.
  11. Use natural light in the morning: Get gradual exposure to natural light to wake up.
  12. Clear the mind: Don’t think or “review the day” when trying to sleep.
  13. Don’t lie in bed awake: Don’t let the body associate the bed with awakeness. If your teen can’t sleep, they should get up and do something relaxing until they feel sleepy.

What are the statistics on depressed teenagers?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in seven 10-19-year-olds worldwide suffers from a mental disorder, adolescent depression being one of the most prevalent. From 2000 to 2017, suicide rates among 15 to 19-year-olds increased significantly in the United States, being one of teenagers’ leading causes of death.​15,16​

Does teenage depression go away?

Clinical teenage depression tends not to go away on its own, and untreated depression may get worse. If a teenager is depressed, it is important to seek medical advice, even if the signs and symptoms do not seem severe. Only a trained professional can accurately diagnose your child’s condition and prognosis.

Why is my teenager crying for no reason?

Your teenager is crying for various reasons, including sadness, stress, scare, hormonal changes, frustration, anxiety, and depression. If you suspect your child suffers from depression due to frequent or prolonged crying, talk to your child’s doctor immediately.

Why my depressed child won’t talk to me?

Your depressed daughter or son won’t talk to you, probably because having depression is exhausting. Decreased energy and fatigue are symptoms of depression. Don’t take it personally when your depressed child won’t talk to you.

Are kids more depressed than they used to be?

Yes, more kids are diagnosed as depressed than they used to be, though it’s unclear if this reflects an actual rise in cases. More awareness and less stigma to get help might contribute to the uptick. The extended lockdown and heightened academic and social stresses could drive this trend, too.

What are resources for depressed teenagers?

988 Suicide And Crisis Lifeline

If your teenager has suicidal thoughts, call 988 Suicide And Crisis Lifeline or text 988.

CALL 911

If your teenager is in immediate danger, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.


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    * All information on is for educational purposes only. Parenting For Brain does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician. *