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Supporting older children and teens during coronavirus

Being a teenager is a difficult period in anyone’s life. Thanks to COVID-19, older children and teenagers may be finding it harder than usual. They may be finding it hard to adapt to the changing restrictions and may be worried that they’re missing out on this time in their lives. They may also have concerns about school and exams, and what this might mean for their future. We’ve put together some advice to help you reassure them.

Tips for supporting older children and teens

Tip #1: Talk to them

It may sound obvious, but being there for your teen and letting them know they can talk to you is one of the best ways you can support them. Often it’s easier to encourage them to open up while you’re doing something else, such as walking, baking or driving somewhere. The Young Minds website has some good suggestions for things you can do together that also give you a chance to talk. If you can get into the habit of doing this regularly, your teen will always have a chance to talk to you, without pressure.

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Tip #2: Give them space

The new restrictions on meeting up may be very difficult for your child. Try to give them space to catch up with friends as best they can, online, on the phone or by video chat. Even if you’re concerned about the amount of time they’re spending looking at screens, it’s best to cut them some slack in the current situation.

Our page on online safety has more information about staying safe, and information on how to use screens and social media in a healthy way can be found at the Mind Yer Time website

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Tip #3: Have fun together

You can’t replace their friends, but you can help them relax and have a laugh by spending some time together doing something fun. Chances are your interests are quite different, but try to find some common ground and be prepared to compromise. And to accept that most of the compromises are likely to be on your side! Try watching a film or boxset together, sharing music, cooking or baking, playing cards or board games or getting them to teach you one of their skills, from something they’ve learnt in school to how to use Tik Tok. 

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Tip #4: Encourage them to get some fresh air and exercise

Even if the weather’s horrible, getting outside is great for clearing the head and raising the spirits. So try and ensure they stick their noses outside at least once a day, even if it’s only for a quick walk round the block. Our page on looking after yourself in winter has more ideas for staying active when the weather isn’t great.

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Tip #5: Suggest they take up a new activity

If they’re struggling for things to do outside of school hours, our page on activities for teens has lots of suggestions, from making their own movies to making some money!

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Tip #6: Try some relaxation exercises together

If you and/or your teen is feeling anxious and stressed, why not give some mindfulness or relaxation exercises a go together? You could check out yoga videos on YouTube or try some simple breathing or mindfulness exercises – there are lots of suggestions on the MIND website.

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Tip #7: Talk to the school if you have any concerns

If lockdown is hard on your teen, it may help to let their school know. This could be the case if your family is dealing with bereavement or changes, such as job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic. If you feel that your teen needs additional support or if you have concerns about their health and wellbeing, it’s important to let the school know as early as possible so that they can work with you to put any support in place which may help.

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Learning at home

Even if your teen is able to go back into school to do essential practical work, they’ll still be learning from home as well. In this short film, Dr Elaine Lockhart offers practical advice on supporting your teen’s mental health during this challenging time.

Our page on helping your teen's learning at home has more advice, and you can find lots of online resources for supporting your child’s mental wellbeing here.

Going back to school

If your teenager is going back into school for essential practical work, they may be anxious about this. They may be nervous about seeing friends they haven’t seen for a while, or worried about being around more people after having spent a lot of time at home. Without being too pushy, let them know that you are there for them if they want to talk about this. 

If they’re worried about whether or not it’s safe to go back, you can reassure them that their safety is their school’s number one priority. Schools are putting extra measures in place to ensure that everyone stays safe. Remind them of the things that they can do, such as regular handwashing, using hand sanitiser and following physical distancing guidelines, as this will help them feel more in control.

If they’ve not been in contact with their friends much recently, encourage them to catch up with them on a video chat, or go for a walk with a friend, keeping to the current guidelines for meeting other people of course. 

These helpful resource packs from the NHS can help you and your teen work through their feelings about going back to school.

In this short video, Dr Janet Goodall has some practical tips for helping children and young people as they go back.

Exams

It’s understandable that your teen may be worried about changes to the exam system introduced because of coronavirus. You can get the latest information on the changes on the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) website. If your teens are anxious reassure them that everyone is in the same boat and that their teachers will be doing everything they can to help them. 

Skills Development Scotland offers advice, information and support on education, employment and career choices for young people and their parents and carers. You can also head over to mykidscareer.com for information on skills in demand and tips on handling career conversations. There’s also lots of support on Scotland’s career website, My World of Work.

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.

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.

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.

Teen won’t follow the rules?

We’re all feeling frustrated by the restrictions at the moment, and sometimes sticking to the rules can be really hard. Older children and teens may be finding the new restrictions particularly difficult, as young people aged 12 and over can now only meet one other person at a time. And they may be tempted to bend the rules from time to time – we’re meant to rebel in our teens, right? Young people often feel invincible from danger and don’t always think ahead about the consequences of what they do. Rather than yelling at them, try using some of the tips on our parenting a teen page to talk to them about it calmly.

Further support

The Cyrenians and the Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution (SCCR) have some resources to help you manage conflict at home. 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.

If you're worried that your teenager may be developing an eating disorder you can contact the eating disorder charity Beat

If you're concerned your child may be self harming, there are resources and advice available on the Young Minds website and on the NHS Inform.