Q. My bubbly 13-year-old daughter has suddenly begun wearing all black, all the time. Is this just a phase or is she trying to tell me something?
A. Don't be so quick to dismiss phases. They mean your child is wrestling with an important personal problem or developmental change. In this case she could be rebelling against what she correctly perceives as a relentless teen culture that demands her unquestioning acceptance—and that's a good thing.
On the other hand her clothes could be reflecting that she's depressed. How do you tell the difference? First, get the stereotype out of your head that all "Goth" kids are suicidal, antisocial misfits destined for failure. Second, ask her how she came to the decision to change her style, and then listen to her answer. Third, observe her relationships with you, your family, and her extended support system of peers and other adults. If she cuts off from her old network, isolates herself, or exclusively hangs out with people (either in person or online) who encourage her isolation from you and her friends from before, then you should take her to a therapist who specializes in teen depression.
Originally published in the February 2007 issue of Family Circle magazine.