Monday, August 16, 2010

Don't tell your parents, Part II

An Annie's Mailbox column from 8/15/10 advises a teenage girl who wrote in about her depressed boyfriend:
Dear Annie: My boyfriend, "Tyler," and I are both 15. He suffers from depression, and lately it has gotten much worse. He told me he takes many doses of Benadryl each night to help him sleep. He promised he would stop once school was finished, but I can't be sure he did.

A few nights ago, Tyler admitted he had been stealing alcohol from his parents' liquor cabinet. He also mentioned that he wanted to try OxyContin and weed to reduce his misery. When I pleaded with him not to do these things, he said he could do whatever he wished and I could not control him.
I know he could feel better in other ways (seeing a therapist, using antidepressants, etc.), and I have mentioned this to him, but he won't listen. His parents are aware that he is depressed, but don't know about the alcohol and drug abuse. Should I say something? I am sure they would lock the liquor cabinet and make him see a doctor, but I know Tyler will never speak to me again if I tell them.

I feel overwhelmed and burdened with this knowledge. I want to help Tyler get better in a healthy way, but I don't feel comfortable going to my parents about this, and it's stressing me out. Please help. — Scared
The response is as expected: tell your parents!
Dear Scared: You are smart to see that Tyler is in trouble. His inability to sleep, plus the liquor abuse and hints about OxyContin and pot indicate that Tyler is depressed, stressed and desperate for someone to notice. It would be best if you would talk to your own parents, but if you cannot, then please say something to Tyler's parents about his increased level of depression. If they do nothing, talk to your school counselor in more detail when school resumes. Tyler may become angry, but you will never forgive yourself if you don't step in.
Lulu: It would be best to talk to her parents? What can they do?

Ashley: I can just see being the parent:
Girl: "Mom, my boyfriend is depressed"
Me: "erm. okay?"

Lulu: I guess "tell your parents" is cookie cutter kid advice that they universally apply even when it doesn't make sense. I'd give her the same advice for everyone who wants their partner to change: She can't make him do what she wants, so she either has to deal with what he's doing or break up with him.

Ashley: Yeah. The thing about advice to teenagers re:relationships is, either you give them the same advice as adults or, they're not mature enough to be in a relationship, in which case you tell them to break up.

Lulu: It is relevant that they're teenagers if only because he would probably have to tell his parents if he wanted to get, for example, a counselor using their insurance, but he still needs to want this. You wouldn't tell an adult to tell her boyfriend's parents about his depression even if he was, for whatever reason, on their insurance, because he's the one you need to convince.

Ashley: She should tell him to talk to the counselor at school or his parents or what have you, and if he doesn't make any effort, she's out.

Lulu: Right, it seems like she has done that.

Ashley: She didn't give the ultimatum. I.e. it's not about him, it's about her. She'll give him every chance to deal with his depression, but he has to be the one to do it.

Lulu: It's always unclear how much help you should give someone who is depressed, since it is an illness that effectively prevents the person from doing the things they need to do to fix it. But curing a depressed person is too much to ask of yourself as a girlfriend. She may sort of like the role of Concerned Handwringing Girlfriend to Troubled Boy, but it is on her to change the dynamic if she doesn't want it to continue forever.

Ashley: Yeah--when he doesn't address his depression, then she should actually break up with him (it should not be an empty threat).

Lulu: So that's the same advice we would give to an adult.

Ashley: It is. Telling her parents won't do anything besides show them that she's not mature enough to deal with relationship problems and therefore shouldn't be in a relationship. I'm actually surprised they didn't even suggest breaking up to this girl.

Lulu: Right, the advice to an adult would have been to break up, I think, but the advice for a teenager is, stay in the relationship, but involve lots of adults.

Ashley: How many adults could you possibly want involved in your romantic relationships? Poly people notwithstanding...

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