The Holly Jolly Season; The Happy Time of the Year! Or is It?

Summer flew by, children started school, and bang, Thanksgiving and Christmas lie but a few short weeks ahead. The time has changed, humidity has dropped, and the Florida temperature is a Chamber of Commerce dream. We look forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas as holidays of fun, family gatherings, gift giving, and great meals. What could be better than family gatherings, exchanging presents of love, and wonderful home cooked meals? We all expect that this time of the year will be one of the best times of the year, and it should be. Who would suspect that Thanksgiving and Christmas are times of the year that our children will experience some of their worst depressions of the year?

Fact is, the results of a study conducted by the NYU Child Study Center with over 400 teens reflected that there is “extraordinary crisis of untreated depression and anxiety among American adolescents, particularly adolescent girls”

The study indicates that during the holiday season a portion of our teens tend to become depressed, and this depression leads to unacceptable behavior in our teen population. Depressed adolescents tend to consumer alcohol, use drugs, and become involved in sexual behavior at a higher rate than those teens who are not depressed. The behavior is far more evident in girls. The statistics reported by the NYC Child Study Center are significant:

70% of depressed girls drink vs. 58% of girls who are not depressed

55% of depressed girls take non-prescription drugs vs 39% of girls who are not depressed

35% of depressed girls are sexually active vs. 23% of girls who are not depressed

We find ourselves asking the question; Why would the holidays be a time that my child would be depressed? The answers often elude parents. Outside of the reasons one might expect, such loss of a parent or grandparent or other loved one over the holidays, what factors could cause your child to be one of the statistics that the study reports?

Let’s take a look at the holidays from your child’s perspective.

The teens are out of school for 4 to 5 days at thanksgiving, and 10 to 14 days at Christmas; This could mean separation anxiety from friends and from boy friends and girl friends. This is especially true if the family is traveling out of town to visit other family members. Believe it or not, this puts tremendous pressure on a teen’s perception of their relationships.

Holidays are a time of celebration for those who have boy friends and girl friends. It is also a time of reminder for those who do not have a boy friend or girl friend that they are alone. Some consider themselves losers if they are not in a relationship. While we find this to be more evident in girls, it also has an effect on boys, and if they are depressed, they often turn to risky behavior to cover this up; drugs, sex, or alcohol.

The holidays are also a time of expectation, especially Christmas. Our teens have an expectation for not only receiving gifts, but also buying and giving gifts. All too often, they place more emphasis on what they get than what they give. In a perfect world, we want our children to see the holidays as times of Thanksgiving and worshiping the birth of Christ. Unfortunately, in some venues, the holidays have become times of excess. Our teens are under tremendous pressure to “keep up with the Jones’s” they must give and get at a level that adults often do not realize. If they are unable to do that, depression can often be an end result.

What you can do:

Recognize that the holiday season brings an opportunity for your teen to become depressed. Look for these symptoms:

Irritable, Moody attitudes

Schedule changes, curfew breaks, school skipped,

Complaints about not enough spending money

Angry about going out of town for the holidays

Spend time discussing what the family holiday travel plans will be well in advance

Discuss and get a clear plan in place for the time that the teen will be out of school during the holidays

Be realistic when discussing the present exchange at Christmas. Encourage your child to give a gift to Jesus in the form of a tithe to your church.

Arrange for your entire family to serve at least one night at a shelter, serving a holiday meal.

If you child has a boyfriend or girlfriend, arrange for the friend to join in serving at a shelter. We find that this always helps our children get a handle on their own blessings.

If possible, try to arrange for a chaperoned date for the friend and your child so that they know that you appreciate their friends. This could serve as your child’s gift.

Written by: Jessica Gilstrap

Jessica Gilstrap is a licensed mental health counselor who has counseled and helped adolescents and their families for the past eight years. Her focus has been with children and women experiencing sexual abuse, eating disorders, and body image problems. Jessica received her Master’s in Counseling from Reformed Theological Seminary, and completed her internship at Northland Community Church in Orlando, Florida.

The Holly Jolly Season

It is the Happy Time of the Year

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