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“I think my 17-year-old is depressed!”

What is your first response? Many parents have been conditioned to believe that medication is our first line of support. So, when we learn that our child might be suffering from depression, we are compelled to call the family doctor, make an appointment, and do our best to get our child that prescription— immediately!

It’s true—anti-depressants can be very beneficial and provide an appropriate remedy for many individuals, including teenagers. However, if your child is showing signs of depression, there is a key factor that must be considered. It is frequently overlooked and its detrimental effect on health is highly underestimated. For me, consideration of this variable is the ‘first stop’ when a teen is having emotional issues of any kind. Look into the—‘TEEN DIET!’

Yes, that scary combination of food-like and nonfood substances which, like a poisonous frog or butterfly are often sprinkled with wild patterns and brilliant colors otherwise unseen in nature and should be warning enough for any teen predator that THIS is NOT for CONSUMPTION!

But the allure of the sprinkled Pop-Tart and the satisfaction of the salt-saturated chips, chicken nuggets and Cheetos—flamin hot please— overrides reason and is just too much for the teen taste-bud to turn down. (Hats off to R & D of the food industry! You’ve got them where you want them!)

So, how much FUEL is that teen brain getting? The answer for MANY teens is, NOT ENOUGH!

Our teens may be running on empty, squeaking by with just enough real food to keep them standing upright, and in some cases, not even that! So many children live on a diet loaded and limited to carbohydrates and sugar, and while this can devastate any nervous system, it is especially detrimental to the developing brain and body of the teen. Today’s fast food and snacking industry is holding our teens’ brains, and subsequently their ‘moods’ hostage.

So what should be the first response when dealing with a teen who seems to be depressed? Investigate their diet! What the heck are they eating, and not eating? What are they drinking? Are they using sodas, energy drinks, and other water substitutes to help give them an unnatural boost to get through their day? Or, do they choose water to hydrate cells, tissue, muscles, and organs (the brain!) to help them move with ease throughout the day?

The challenge—

Depending on the age of our child, there is only so much we can do when it comes to diet. Much like our two-year-olds, they are in the throws of new and exciting levels of autonomy! But don’t despair; there are a few effective strategies you can try! The first line of action I recommend is not to remove anything, but instead, to add some real foods. You can begin by setting out those things that are ‘least’ horrible and make them readily available for snacking, like apple slices, bananas and peanut butter, pitas slices and hummus, baby carrots, hard boiled eggs, bean dip and whole grain crackers, granola or something you know your teen will tolerate. If you leave it out when they whip through the house, chances are, they will take the bait! They are almost always hungry, right?

Try not to force them to change abruptly though. Encouraging them to try new healthy snacks will in time help to reduce cravings for the candies, sodas, and ‘chips.’ Talking about diet with your teen and investigating the ‘facts’ about food together online might also be helpful. (Notice I said with and together; teens can smell a lecture a mile away and will avoid it like … a LECTURE! )

Depending on your family dynamics, you may want to watch the film, Super Size Me, 2004 together. Ask your teen if they would be willing to watch it because you would like their opinion. And you would like their opinion! They have great insight and you want to hear it! I shared this film with the students in my high school health class every year, and it seemed to resonate with them and was often followed by insightful discussions. And … I’m excited to share that a sequel was produced and debuted in September of this year entitled, Super-Size- Me 2: Holy Chicken! I have yet to see this, but I can only imagine how it will affect my personal chicken consumption.

Dang it!

You may also want to investigate the possibility of a vitamin deficiency as this can have devastating effects on mood. Sometimes people are unable to absorb specific nutrients and can be deficit despite a healthy diet. My personal experience with this came when I took my daughter to a holistic pharmacist to investigate any nutritional deficits that could be causing depression. The pharmacist suggested that I have her Vitamin D level checked. We learned it was ‘off the charts’ low and were prescribed a highly effective dose in oil form. The results were amazing; there was a significant improvement in her mood.

Lastly, as I mentioned, antidepressants serve many as a means of reducing and eliminating symptoms of depression. But it seems rather silly to prescribe a chemical to treat a system that is chemically imbalanced due to the ongoing consumption of toxic chemicals, or lack of proper chemicals due to a sinister teen diet. Parents of teenagers should consider looking into diet first. And I suggest investigating the tasty and healthy food options that reside on the outermost perimeter of the grocery store! Delicious and Nutritious!

Stay tuned for more about teens and how to help parents who live with them … and love them!

About the author

Kate Martin has been a high school teacher for 27 years and retired from the Racine Unified School District in 2015. 

She taught students with special needs as well as those in general education. While working with hundreds of parents over the years, she discovered that there was a significant lack of resources and educational opportunities to help them navigate the many demands of parenting today. 

For this reason, in 2013 she founded The Purposeful Parent, offering workshops and resources for parents, teachers, and caregivers.  

Buy the Book by Kate Martin: The Best Thoughts To Think Five minutes Before