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Helping Your Child Deal with Acne's "Invisible Scars"
By Herbert P. Goodheart, M.D.,
Author of Acne For Dummies

Acne affects adolescents at a time when they're developing their personalities and evolving into adulthood. The psychological impact of severe or even mild acne can lead your child to feelings of diminished self-esteem and be a source of anxiety when it comes to dealing with the world. During this time, peer acceptance is very important to them and physical appearance and attractiveness is highly associated with status. Besides the physical scars that acne can produce, your teen may also be suffering emotionally.

Acne, particularly, severe facial acne, can bring out cruel taunts, teasing, and name calling from other children. Some teens lose interest in sports such as swimming or basketball because of the need to undress in locker rooms and expose their back and chests. Some kids become so preoccupied with how their skin looks that they may not want to go to school, they may pull away from their friends, show dramatic changes in their thinking and behavior, become withdrawn, and may even become depressed.

Our society places a great emphasis on physical appearance; we're all constantly bombarded with advertisements that display models and movie stars, all of whom are depicted as paragons of beauty and flawless perfection. They often serve as the spokespeople for health and beauty aids that imply that you can look like them if you buy the products they're promoting. When you see media portrayals of all those people with perfect skin, just remember that almost all of those photos are touched-up and airbrushed. Some of the models even have -- heaven forbid -- acne, just like your kid does!

Teens with acne are often told, "It's no big deal, and anyway, you'll grow out of it; it's just a normal part of life." But to a teen with acne, it is a big deal; they often feel insecure and lack self confidence. The truth is that many kids don't "just grow out of it". The main thing to remember, acne, even very severe acne, is treatable. But you as a parent should be aware of the "invisible scars" that some teens carry on the inside; they can be really tough!

You Can Do Something About It

Here are a few simple, yet effective, ways to communicate your willingness to help:

Let your child know how much you care: Give your child adequate time to bring up the subjects of their acne and allow them to address or respond to your questions about the behavioral changes you've noticed.

Listen patiently: They may want to communicate their feelings but have difficulty doing so. Think back to your own teen years. You may not have always felt like it was easy to be open about your thoughts and feelings.

Don't be overly judgmental about your child's appearance: Approach the subject of acne in a gentle, caring manner and try to give a little space when it comes to some of the relatively harmless decisions they make about their clothing and grooming habits.

It's extremely important to keep the lines of communication open: Take the time to pay undivided attention to your kid's concerns. It's important to even if your child seems to want to withdraw.

Don't lecture on the subject: Try to avoid telling your child what to do. Instead, pay careful attention and you may discover more about the issues causing his or her problems.

Detecting Depression in Your Teenager

It's very normal for people with severe acne to feel down and despondent; even mild acne can give them the blues. However, if your child is feeling unhappy more often and doesn't seem to enjoy his/her usual activities anymore, you need to consider the possibility that your child may be suffering from depression.

Determining if a teenager is depressed can be a very tricky undertaking. Dramatic physical and mental changes seem to take place almost overnight and it sometimes seems hard to tell the "normal" from the "abnormal."

Depression has become a more commonly recognized diagnosis in adolescents than it had been in the past. Parents should look for signs of depression in adolescents and they should be dealt with in a serious manner and not just passed off as "growing pains" or the normal consequence of adolescence. If you observe some of the signs or behaviors listed below, they may be indicators of depression, although they're not always diagnostic of teen depression, they may be a signs of other psychological, social, family, or school problems:

  • Increased fatigue, low energy
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, anxiety, and guilt
  • Loss of enjoyment in things that previously gave pleasure
  • Irritability, anger, or aggressiveness
  • Sleep disturbances such as staying awake at night and sleeping during the day
  • Social isolation, withdrawal from family and friends
  • Loss of interest in food or compulsive overeating that results in rapid weight loss or gain
  • Lots of new physical complaints such as headaches, stomach aches, low back pain, or excessive fatigue
  • A sudden drop in grades
  • Unusual rebellious behavior, or cutting school
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Promiscuous sexual activity
  • A preoccupation with death and dying
  • Suicidal thoughts

If one or more of these descriptions rings a bell, talk to your child's pediatrician or other health care provider. Strong suicidal thoughts are an emergency and call for immediate action. Don't go it alone!

©2009 Herbert P. Goodheart, M.D., author of Acne For Dummies

Author Bio
Herbert P. Goodheart, M.D., of New York, NY, author of Acne For Dummies,  is a practicing dermatologist who also teaches at the Mount Sinai College of Medicine. He is the author of a highly regarded dermatology textbook. For more information please visit