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Supporting older children and teens

Being a teenager is a difficult period in anyone’s life but. the last year has been particularly tough for teens. We’ve put together some advice to help you and them.

Tips for supporting older children and teens

Dealing with conflict

You and your teenager might get on great, but being together for months on end will have been hard at times. Don’t beat yourself up when arguments happen. Just try to appreciate that this is as difficult for them as it is for you. Our page on parenting a teen has more information on dealing with conflict. The Cyrenians and the Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution (SCCR) also have resources to help you manage conflict at home. 

School and exams

Your teen may have concerns about missing out on school work, exams and what the pandemic means for their future. Our page on helping your teen with their learning has advice that can help reassure them.

Teen friendships

The friends we make in our teens can last a lifetime – but friendships can sometimes be difficult at this age too. Again, it will help your teen to know they can always talk to you about what’s going on in their lives. Often small things, like being left out of a social occasion or having their messages ignored, can seem massively important and upsetting to them, so don’t dismiss their feelings. Be sympathetic and understanding, and help them understand that misunderstandings and arguments don’t have to mean the end of a friendship. Young Scot has some good advice for teens on making – and keeping – friends.

If your teen is struggling to make friends, Young Scot has tips to help them. The Young Minds website also has useful tips to help young people cope with social anxiety. You can help them by working out some conversation starters together and practising small talk – you could even try a bit of role playing!

Relationships

The pandemic has been hard for people who don’t live with their partner. And this includes most teenagers in a relationship. If your son or daughter has a boyfriend or girlfriend, not being able to see them as much will have been very difficult. They may be sad at having missed out on this important time in their life. It's good to talk to them about this and explain that you understand, even if talking about it might make you feel uncomfortable. Young Scot has some good advice for teenagers on sex and relationships.

No matter what your teen’s relationship is with someone, they should be treated with kindness and respect. That’s Not OK from Young Scot helps young people learn how to spot the signs that something isn't right and say "That's Not OK".

Bullying

Nowadays bullying isn't just confined to school. If you’re concerned about bullying, this page from the NSPCC has lots of information on preventing bullying, spotting the signs that your child may be being bullied, and how you can help them and get further support. The respectme website also has practical advice on your options, while YoungScot offers advice to young people on dealing with bullying.

Spotting the signs that your teen may be struggling with their mental health

Knowing how to talk to them about their mental health, or recognising the signs that they might be struggling, can be really hard. But the earlier they are spotted, the better. Signs of depression or anxiety, for example, can sometimes look like normal behaviour, particularly in teenagers who can keep their feelings to themselves. But there are some key signs you can look out for, including:

  • changes in behaviour
  • becoming more withdrawn, tearful or irritable than usual
  • stopping doing things they usually enjoy
  • sleeping much more or less than usual
  • eating much more or much less than usual.

In this short film, Professor Cathy Richards, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, shares advice on spotting signs that your child or teenager may be struggling with their mental health and explains what you can do to help.

Problems with sleep

If your teen is having difficulty sleeping, our page on sleep has more advice.

Eating disorders

Eating disorders can affect anyone from any age and any walk of life. An eating disorder is a serious mental illness, but it is treatable. It’s never the fault of the person experiencing it, and anyone who has an eating disorder deserves fast, compassionate support to help them get better. If you're worried that your teenager may be developing an eating disorder, the charity Beat can help. 

Self-harm

Self-harm, or self-injury, is when someone deliberately does something to themselves that appears to cause some kind of physical hurt. If you find out your child is self-harming this can be incredibly hard, but there is help available. The Young Minds website has more information on spotting the signs of self-harm and getting help, and there are also resources and advice available on NHS Inform.

Will the coronavirus pandemic have affected my teen’s mental health?

This has been a very tough time for teens. Just as they should be finding their feet and becoming more independent, they’ve been stuck at home with limited options for socialising. They may feel they’ve missed out on key moments of their life they’ll never get back, like celebrating the end of exams or having holidays with friends. Group activities that may mean a lot to them, like being part of a sports team, drama club or choir, have been cancelled. But, while we still don’t know what the long term effects of the pandemic will be, it’s important to remember that kids are often more resilient than we think. At the moment the best things we can do to support our teens are:

  • Having open and honest conversations with them about the pandemic and how everyone in the family is coping and feeling.
  • Listening to their worries and take them seriously – even if to us they seem unimportant in the great scheme of things.
  • Talking to them about ways to manage their worries (you’ll find some helpful tips for dealing with negative thoughts here).
  • Encourage them to connect with friends as much as they can.
  • Encourage them to get outside and stay physically active and try new activities – you’ll find lots of suggestions on our outdoor and physical activities and creative activities pages for teens.
  • Keep a careful watch on your child for any signs of anxiety or depression.
     

Further support

Seeing your child struggling can be upsetting, scary and overwhelming for parents and sometimes it can be hard to know what to do. But there’s lots of help out there. 

If you need to talk to someone, a great place to start is your child’s school. Ask to speak to their guidance or pastoral teacher: they’ll know your child and will be able to direct you to support available in your area. You could also talk to your GP, who’ll also be able to point you in the right direction for further support.

Young Scot and Young Minds have articles to help young people deal with the coronavirus outbreak. NHS Inform and Childline also have resources on their websites on how to cope.

Mental health issues can present themselves in different ways, this is especially true in teenagers. The Breathing Space helpline is available to help teenagers who may be experiencing low moods and depression. More information about identifying, treating and managing mental health problems and disorders can be found on NHS Inform.