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Supporting your teenage children during coronavirus

Being a teenager is a difficult period in anyone’s life. Thanks to COVID-19, teenagers may have found it harder than usual this year. They may be finding it hard to adapt to new 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.

School and 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.

Going back to school

Having missed so much school, you teenager may be anxious about going back. They may be nervous about seeing friends they haven’t seen for a while, or worried about being around so many 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. 
Here are some tips for helping support them before and after they go back:

In this short film, secondary school teacher Chris Smith has lots of great practical advice for helping your child get ready to go back to school, including how to manage that tricky transition from P7 to S1. Teachers like Chris are ready to welcome your children back and offer them the support they need.

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, once they go back to school.

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Tip #2: Establish a routine before they go back

With life turned upside down by coronavirus, many of us have found our usual routines have also fallen by the wayside. Bedtimes may have got later, and lie-ins and/or afternoon naps may have become more usual. But before your teen goes back to school, try and establish a more ‘school friendly’ routine.  Slightly earlier starts and bedtimes and regular meal times will mean it won’t come as too much of a shock when they go back. Don’t just impose this – agree on a sensible routine with your teen. Being part of the decision-making process will make them feel more in control. 

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Tip #3: Reassure them that they will catch up

Many teens may be worried about how they will make up for lost time when they go back to school. They may have concerns about falling behind in their work, or missing parts of the curriculum. Reassure them that teachers are very aware of this and will be doing everything they can to help pupils get back into the swing of learning. 

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Tip #4: Let them that it’s safe to go back

If your teen's 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. Things like more frequent cleaning, regular hand washing for pupils and staff before and after any activity, such as mealtimes, break times and sporting activities, and considering one-way systems in corridors are just some of the measures schools are taking. 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.

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Tip #5: Encourage them to spend time with other teens before they go back

It’s understandable that your teen may have become withdrawn during the coronavirus period. However, with schools going back, now’s the time to encourage them to get out more and see their friends, if you can.  You can also encourage them to catch up with their friends, keeping to the current guidelines for meeting other people of course. 

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Tip #6: Encourage them to get out and about

Some teens may feel nervous about being out and about after so much time at home. Many will not have used public transport or gone to a busy place since lockdown began. While we’re all still being asked to avoid crowded places, getting out and about a bit more will help build their confidence. You could suggest that being out and about at the moment is a bit like learning to drive – there are lots of things you can control (like physical distancing and hand hygiene) but you also need to watch out for other drivers on the road!

The mental health charity Mind has a helpful page for young people on managing their feelings about lockdown restrictions changing.

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Tip #7: Remind them it’s not just about schoolwork

There’s so much more to school than schoolwork to look forward to. Seeing friends and getting back into a routine will help them feel more independent, confident and in control. Teachers totally understand that this has been a difficult time for all of us, so they’ll make sure pupils feel settled in to support their learning. 

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Tip #8: Talk to the school if you have any concerns

If lockdown has been 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. Schools and local authorities will be putting in place steps to offer support. 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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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 at school, 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 these last few months will have been very difficult. They may be sad at having missed out on this important time in their life. It is 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

One reason your teen may be reluctant to return to school is because of fears over bullying. If you’re concerned about bullying at your child’s school, 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. Young people in particular may be tempted to bend the rules from time to time – we’re meant to rebel in our teens, right? They 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 and 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 B-eat

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.