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Health & Parenting

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Optimism May Protect Teens Against Depression

Study Shows Optimism in Teens May Also Prevent Substance Abuse and Antisocial Behavior

Evaluating Optimism in Teens continued...

"It may just be that the set-point for getting into a negative way of thinking and the loss of self-confidence that go with depression is just that much lower for optimists and that is the reason for its protective effects," Patton says.

Lack of optimism seemed to affect girls more than boys, he found, when it came to the depression link. Boys with low optimism levels were about half as likely to get depressed as girls with low optimism.

Those with high optimism were less likely to engage in heavy substance use or antisocial behavior, but the association was more modest than the link with depression.

How Parents Can Help Teens

While parents of teens may be tempted to just encourage their kids to ''think positive," that's not the take-home message, Patton tells WebMD. "Simply saying look on the bright side of life is not going to be helpful alone."

Instead, he says, parents should help teens develop more effective responses to problems of everyday life such as handling conflict.

He also suggests, when a teen has a crisis, that parents talk to them about the bad things that have happened. Especially useful, he says, is helping your teen learn to put things in perspective and to put themselves in another's shoes.

Simply telling a teen to think positively may actually backfire, agrees Alec L. Miller, PsyD, director of the adolescent depression and suicide program and chief of child and adolescent psychology at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. "It can inflame and exacerbate [the situation]," says Miller, who is also professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He reviewed the study for WebMD.

When teens seem depressed, he says, parents might help by gently saying they understand about feeling depressed. Next, they might suggest: "Let's look at the evidence to see if the situation is as bad as you think it might be."

From that point, he says, you can encourage your teen to move to a more optimistic perspective.

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