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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships 78    

                             October 2008


It could be you ....          

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship CounsellorEvery month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet as we pass our half-way markers.  

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.   

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.     



My Teenage Daughter is battling Depression

Dear Maggi,

My daughter 13 years old has been battling depression- cutting- suicide talk etc.  She has been on Leaxpro with good results and is doing well with relationships.  I now have to tell her we are moving to a place she does not necessarily like.  She would have been going to 8th grade at school. I need to tell her but I'm anxious about how.


Maggi replies

You are really worried about the effect your news will have on your daughter and it is right that every parent considers this when taking big decisions. Moving house and making a new start somewhere else is one of the major life stresses. But you have the added anxiety of having seen her stuggle with depression and self image issues and are concerned that these will resurface when she finds out that she will be leaving all her pals and familiar surroundings behind.

Like many people you are worrying ahead of the event - before you have told her. Instead of worrying about what negative effects the move might hold for her, spend a little time thinking about what advantages there could be in a change of surroundings, what opportunities for making new friends, making a new start, trying out a new way of being. With different friends at a new school they won’t know she has changed.

Sometimes when a girl of her age has struggled with cutting and suicidal feelings she is trying to come to terms with all kinds of pressures, internal and external and is feeling unable to control them. This increases her feeling of inadequacy and leads to further thoughts of not being able to cope with life. The only way she can see of dealing with this is by doing something that she has control over; and cutting is one of those acts, entirely deliberate and controlled by her, no-one else.

There are many factors that lead a child to this frightening behaviour, too many to discuss here, but don’t underestimate the following:


  • The influence of her peer group, who might talk brashly - the way teenagers do - about such acts almost as if they are boasting. Underneath every boast there is anxiety. It’s one of the ways a teenager deals with fear. But most teens are anxious to fit in with the rest of their peers. They will go along with things even when they are just a bit scared of the consequences.
  • The influence of the media, magazines and tv present the impossible but leave the child desperately wishing they could have the looks, body, clothes, hair, skin, boyfriend, life, that they see acted out on the screen or in the magazine. So-called celebrities show a false view of life that to the immature person says ‘I’m beautiful, successful and rich and everyone loves me for it’.
  • The effect of a secret worry that she feels unable to confide in her parents. This could be something that a parent would think insignificant, like an upset with a friend at school, getting behind with studies, an incidence of bullying, or an unecessary fear of illness or becoming sexual; or it could be a more serious worry. These would include inappropriate pressure from someone to have sex or take drugs. If a child confides in a parent or grandparent on any problem, it is vital that it is not dismissed as something they have got out of proportion. If they feel mocked or belittled they’ll keep quiet next time. Every concern, big or small, should be taken seriously.
  • The effect of the way the family behaves. If the teenager feels that they are not loved, or too smothered by love - in which case it is not love as there is no space to breath for oneself - or they feel unnoticed while everyone else is busy making important decisions, having crises or celebrations that appear not to include them. A teenage child is a fast maturing member of the family and although there’s plenty of information that a parent needs to protect the child from - e.g. the more intimate details of a parent’s relationship or detailed gossip about another person’s situation - they are able to process the outline causes for a family member’s distress or that there are important reasons that a major change is happening. House moves, job change, serious illness, bereavement or marriage breakup are in this category.

Whatever the cause of your daughter’s distress, always make time to give your full attention to her on a regular basis. This doesn’t have to be ‘heavy’, but make it clear to her that her thoughts, opinions and concerns are of interest to you; even if they are not in accord with yours. They will give you a better insight into what is happening to her and how she sees the world, and she will feel valued by you. Better still, if you are able to discuss, in a light, general way, a few of your personal concerns about the move she will feel trusted and recognised for her growing maturity. This can encourage her to talk with you about her worries and gives you the opportunity to acknowledge and perhaps dispel her fears.

To reach that stage of trust between mother and daughter isn’t easy. Consider the effect of teenage hormone rushes she is enduring, that fling all teenagers up to the sky then plummeting to the ditch at a moments notice. This makes life very prickly at times. The best and most tolerant of mothers can feel as though they’ve lost their child and found another species in their place! The teen will rage, dismiss, sulk or go silent and the parent will throw their hands in the air in despair. Again, try to make a fresh approach later, to signal that you are still there, caring and ready to listen, still loving them. That fear will be lurking, even if they can’t tell you.

So talk to her, explain why this is happening, ask for her help or support with specific, manageable tasks in the move. Listen to her concerns or ideas and give them full validity. Be ready to explain some of the benefits to her too, offer her your full support and always leave the door open for more talking - especially once you are there.

Living With A Teenager

Suzie Hayman

A survival guide for parents. Packed with insights and strategies which will help you to understand your teenagers' needs and behaviour and make those teenage years easy to bear.

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

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