Cause and Effect of Mixed Messages: Depression in Children and Teens

Cause and Effect: Depression in Children and Teens

Studies show that sixty percent of new parents believe it is perfectly acceptable to let a baby cry it out at bedtime. These parents arrive at their choice after consulting with doctors, friends, their own parents and even strangers, all of whom affirm this practice is not only OK, it is essential.

After an infant acquiesces into a self-comforting sleeping pattern, there is an ensuing plight. The child soon discovers punishment is the consequence for being inquisitive and imaginative. A parent delights when she sees her child pull itself up from the floor and hold onto a piece of furniture. Standing on his own, the child becomes more agile every day. The doting parent encourages every initial feat with praise and applause.

No, Don't Touch! No, Don't!

Just when the happy baby becomes confident enough to begin reaching for curious looking items, the confusion starts. Parents scold "No, don't touch!" When the baby, in fact, reaches and then pulls things off the table, he is actually punished by disapproval. This is when the schizophrenic messages begin. The baby in question is incapable of understanding what is good and what is bad. He can not separate the act of pulling himself up from grabbing something interesting off the table.

To this child, it is all a question of learning. All he is capable of, at this point in time, is soaking up every new thing in his immediate environment. The child is therefore confused when the most important person in his life provides mixed messages. In one minute the parent demonstrates approval, the next minute the child loses favor for actions that are one and the same to the child.

It would be more appropriate for the parent to teach the child to explore in a safe environment, where all breakable objects are placed well out of reach, otherwise the constant disapproval will cause the child to lose trust in the parent. So, previously having learned that mom and dad would not come when he called, now he perceives that his actions, encouraged by his parents, lead to punishment and bad feelings. This child is unclear as to how to win praise. He does not understand boundaries and, therefore, completely lacks confidence in his parents and in himself.

Growing Up Without A Foundation of Trust?

This child is growing up without a foundation of trust. This pattern of affection/rejection continues for years, so by the time he is four or five, the little boy is completely unmanageable. His actions are inconsistent, and he acts out inappropriately. Both the boy and his parents are at their wits end. But the child gets the brunt of the adult's frustration.

More punishment ensues, until the little boy is diagnosed with severe behavioral problems. He is blamed for his bad conduct. If the parents looked candidly at the situation, they could see how they had set it up for him to behave in this way. They taught their son to act inappropriately. He is acting as they directed. Not knowing the appropriate way to get praised, he chooses negative-attention-getting methods.

It is important to remember a child does not process his environment the way an adult does. Think of a six-month-old in a high chair continually throwing a spoon or another item off the tabletop. Many caregivers immediately assume that the child who does this over and over again, expecting the adult to rescue the item, is being manipulative.

Placing it again on the high-chair table, the baby throws it off. Usually the child laughs, and is thrilled that the adult is retrieving the item, so the exercise can continue. Rather than get into the mind of the child, many parents approach this from their own perspective. They feel frustrated and manipulated for repeating the act over and over again, and might even reprimand the child.

Learning Cause and Effect

What is really going on here is that the baby is learning cause and effect. The child is fascinated by the pull of gravity, and that is why he laughs and smiles. This game is a learning experience not meant to infuriate the parent. When the parent has enough of the activity, it is appropriate to re-direct the child. Otherwise the child gets the message that learning and exploring can be met with disapproval.

Similarly, a toddler continually goes to a table and ceaselessly attempts to grab an eye-catching, fragile ornament that could be potentially dangerous if it fell. Instead of punishing the child for its willfulness and open-eyed instinct, it would be more suitable for the parent to think like a child and understand how the child is processing the situation.

The parent could be more effective by re-directing the toddler to another activity or removing the ornament. Repeating this action over time teaches the needed lesson without shaming the child. The toddler is able to be curious while holding onto good feelings.

The Parents Are Teachers, Not Jail Wardens

Cause and Effect: Depression in Children and TeensIn that parents are the teachers, if you spank a child, you are not teaching obedience. Spanking beats a child into submission. The child has no choice but to comply, when the odds are stacked against him. In terms of brute strength, a parent is bigger and will always over-power and win.

When a parent spanks a child, they actually teach the child that brute force is the way to secure your objective. The lesson is to hit. When the child is not getting what he wants, then he will emulate what he has learned. He hits his sister when a toy is not relinquished; a friend for having a difference of opinion, a dog that is a nuisance.

When he becomes an adult the trend intensifies. He may evolve into the angry husband who beats a wife who won't be controlled, or his own child when his behavior needs to be modified. In the most extreme cases he may just fly into a rage and beat, or even kill, friends or family members, because he can not control his feelings.

Children in Abusive Environments

Countless children are living in contradictory and abusive environments and then get diagnosed as having ADD (attention deficit disorder); ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder); OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder. Parents feel they are left with no alternative but to medicate their children.

Doctors prescribe a variety of medications to modify children's behavior. Luvox, Prozac, Zoloft, Paxit, Effexor and Ritalin are serotonin uptake inhibitors. Such medications work by preventing the breakdown of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a compound that causes a sense of well-being. Deficiency causes depression, anxiety, and compulsivity so restoring available serotonin improves all these behaviors.

Teenagers, Depression and Trauma

Experts say that as many as one in four teenagers are suffering from depression, and that each year up to one million prescriptions for antidepressants are written for children and teens. Unfortunately, medicating children never fixes the problem, as it does not get to the root of the issue. It merely acts as a temporary band-aid.

Studies show that trauma creates the ceasing of serotonin. What could be more traumatic for a newborn than to be ignored or irrationally punished? What could be more traumatic for a baby or adolescent than to be given contradictory messages?

When a child's voice is silenced, trauma occurs and rage emerges. Sadly, once a child or teen is diagnosed with depression, the cycle of depression often continues through life. The menace will rear its ugly head at the onset of any new crisis.

This article is excerpted from the book "Broken Wings Can Learn to Fly: Why Children are Broken and How They Can Be Healed" by Francesca Cappucci Fordyce. To order the book, contact Francesca at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


About The Author

Francesca Cappucci FordyceFrancesca Cappucci Fordyce is a journalist who has worked in television, radio, and print mediums. She worked as an on-air reporter for 10 years with ABC News in Los Angeles. She is now a stay-at-home mom. Being a "broken child" who grew into a "broken person", she made it a priority to heal her pain because she did not want her child to inherit her negative traits. She can be contacted at: getmusicheard @ earthlink.net.

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