CONTACT Dear Dr. T: 'My family ignores me' - Dr. Christian Thurstone

Dear Dr. T: My family seems to be better off without me. I try being involved, but it only seems to make them team up on me even more. I want to blame it on the fact that I’m the middle child. How can I get through to them without having an awkward, sit-down conversation? — Disconnected Sister

Dear Disconnected Sister,

Feeling like you’re a part of the family and that you matter to your parents is very important. Unfortunately, it sounds as if no one is picking up on your distress. That means you need to be brave and ask clearly and directly for what you want.

You should start by telling your parents that you would like to spend some alone time with them. Start small by asking your mom or dad to go for a walk in your neighborhood, go to the movies, get some ice cream — or anywhere else you would like to go.

When you go out with one or both of your parents, try to make small talk because big talk is made of small talks. You — and they — will feel more connected to each other.

At the end of your time together, tell your parents that you very much would like to do something with them each week. Ideally, you’ll eventually find the courage during one of those times together to tell your parents just what you’ve told me in your question.

I’m not sure what you mean about how your family “seems better off” without you. Sometimes, that’s a way young people express thoughts about not wanting to live. About half of teens have those thoughts, and, unfortunately, many of them suffer alone and in silence when there are actually many people around them who could help. If this at all sounds like you, I recommend that you find help from people you can trust. Talk to your parents, a trusted teacher, a community group leader — or even ask to schedule an appointment with your doctor.

Disclaimer: The comments made by Dr. Christian Thurstone are not intended as, and should not be considered, medical or psychiatric advice. Though he strives to provide information and perspective that is accurate and useful, he recommends that you seek the services of a competent, independent mental health professional in the relevant jurisdiction for the personal help and advice you may require. 

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About Chris Thurstone

Dr. Christian Thurstone is one of only a few dozen physicians in the United States who are board-certified in general, child and adolescent and addictions psychiatry. He is Director of Behavioral Health Services at Denver Health and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado, where he conducts research on youth substance use and addiction and serves as director of medical training for the university’s addiction psychiatry fellowship program. You can read more about him here.

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