The teen years are full of fun and excitement. But, from changes to their bodies to new relationships and the pressures of learning to be more independent, there are lots of things teens may be grappling with too. Here are some of the more common issues, with advice on what to do if you’re worried about them.
School and exams
Your teen might be worried about school work and exams. Our page on helping your teen with their learning has advice that can help reassure them.
The friends we make in our teens can last a lifetime – but friendships can sometimes be difficult at this age too. Let your teen to know they can always talk to you about what’s going on in their life. Often small things, like being left out of a social occasion or having their messages ignored, can seem massively important when you're a teen. So don’t dismiss their feelings, even if they seem a bit out of proportion to you.
Be sympathetic, and help them understand that arguments don’t have to mean the end of a friendship. YoungScot has some good advice for teens on making – and keeping – friends.
Struggling to make friends
If your teen is struggling to make friends, YoungScot has tips to help them. The YoungMinds website also has useful tips to help young people cope with social anxiety with friends or new people. You can help them by working out some conversation starters together and practising small talk – you could even try a bit of role playing!
Romantic relationships and sex
As your teen grows up, they might start forming romantic relationships and may start exploring their sexuality. This is only natural – but it can be a concerning time for you. Talking about sex may feel uncomfortable and embarrassing, but the more you talk about it, the less awkward it will feel. The more open and honest you are with your teen, the more they’ll be able to make informed, sensible choices. And the more likely your teen will feel comfortable about their own sexuality and go on to form healthy, happy relationships. Children First have good info on talking to teens about sex. There is also helpful advice on the NSPCC website about talking to your teen about healthy relationships and sex.
No matter what your teen’s relationship is with someone, they should be treated with kindness and respect. That’s Not OK from YoungScot helps young people learn how to spot the signs that something isn't right and say 'That's Not OK'.
While children are rarely on their own, as they grow up they have to get used to being on their own more, and for some teens this can be unnerving. As teens struggle to form and assert their own identities, feeling as if they don’t fit in is normal. Even if they have a lot of friends or if they’re surrounded by family, they can still feel lonely, misunderstood or like they don’t fit in. The pandemic has only made this worse. And teens often feel emotions like loneliness even more strongly than adults.
So if your teen seems down or withdrawn, it may be because they’re feeling lonely. Talk to them about this. Reassure them that everyone else isn’t necessarily out there having fun and the things they see on social media are just a snapshot of other people’s lives, or might not be real at all. Including them in family decisions and encouraging them to meet up with friends in person as well as online can help them feel less left out.
In this short video, Child Psychologist Professor Cathy Richards discusses teenagers and how to support them if they are withdrawn or isolated.
Sexuality and gender identity
Sexuality and sexual orientation is about who you're physically and emotionally attracted to. Gender identity is the gender we feel we are inside. This may be a different gender to the sex recorded at birth, or neither gender, or both, or something else.
For many young people, understanding their sexuality and/or gender identity can be confusing. They may want to talk to you about this, or they may prefer to work things out themselves. Try to let them come to you in their own time. Talking honestly about sex and sexuality, listening to them and not judging will make it more likely they will come to you. Have a look at this advice on coming out from Stonewall.
Smoking and alcohol and drug use
Some experimentation with smoking, alcohol and soft drugs is common in teenagers. This page from the NSPCC has good on advice on talking to your child about alcohol, drugs and sex to ensure they don’t take too many risks. As with anything, talking with them openly and honestly is the best way to help keep them safe.
Nowadays bullying isn't just confined to school, it can happen at home or online. 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. And there is advice for parents on the YoungMinds website.
Worries around body image
Millions of young people worry about their body. This is only made worse by unrealistic pictures of others on social media. One thing you can do to help is to not be critical of other people’s appearance, even your own. By being more positive you are showing your teen how to act and that there’s nothing wrong with looking different. This advice from YoungMinds may help.
All children and young people feel worried or anxious sometimes, and this is a normal part of growing up. At certain points, for example if they have to do something they haven’t done before or before an exam, young people may become more stressed, but tend to be able to feel better quite quickly afterwards. Anxiety can become a problem when it becomes overwhelming or goes on for a long time, and stops them from doing other things. If your teen is struggling with anxiety, there are things you can do to help them – including being there for them, and helping them to take practical steps to work through it. YoungMinds have some good support on teenage anxiety.
Teens’ eating patterns and choice of food can be quite random – this is quite normal and doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong. If you can, encourage them to eat healthily and avoid eating too much junk food.
For some teens, however, food can become a complex issue. 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. If you're worried that your teenager may be developing an eating disorder, the charity Beat can help. If your child has been diagnosed as having an eating disorder, the Cared Scotland website has lots of resources that can help.
Our page on eating problems has more information and advice.
Self-harm, or self-injury, is when someone deliberately does something to hurt themselves. If you find out your child is self-harming this can be incredibly hard, but there is help available. The YoungMinds 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.
Low mood and depression
Everyone feels low at some point. And it is common in teenagers. But if these dark moods are constant and stop them from doing things in their day-to-day life, you need to do something. 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. There is also advice for parents on the YoungMinds website.
All suicidal feelings should be taken seriously. Knowing or worrying that your child is experiencing suicidal thoughts can be incredibly distressing. The important thing to remember is that it is possible for your child to come out the other side and feel okay again, and that you are not alone. Find advice if your child is having suicidal thoughts at YoungMinds and at Papyrus UK.
Will the coronavirus pandemic have affected my teen’s mental health?
The last two years have been tough 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.
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 thing we can do to support our teens is:
- 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 taking them seriously – even if to us they seem unimportant in the grand 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.
We have lots of advice to help you talk to them and to see things more positively.