• As the world starts to open up again, teenagers and young people will have to readjust – Poppy O'Neill offers nine tips to parents

  • We have therapists who are trained to work with adolescents if your teen needs extra support – find yours here

Young people have been through a lot during the pandemic. In contrast to the low risk Covid poses to their physical health, curbs to their access to education, exercise and a social life have had a huge effect on teen mental health.

Now that we’re beginning to emerge from the worst of the pandemic, many young people are finding the process of getting ‘back to normal’ challenging too. Here are some of the ways you can support your teen right now.

1. Let them be moody

If your teenager is moody around you, this is a positive sign. It means they feel safe and comfortable enough to be themselves and express their emotions. Try not to minimise these emotions, or make them feel like a burden. As long as their behaviour is OK, you can just let their emotions be what they are.

If their behaviour isn’t OK and they’re showing you disrespect, validating the emotion while making it clear the behaviour is unacceptable is a good place to start. You can do this by saying something like: “You’re really angry, that’s understandable. But it’s never OK to speak to me like that.”

2. Listen without judgement

Some of the things that play on the minds of our teens might seem insignificant or superficial to us adults. Keep in mind that their brains are still growing, and their priorities are very different to yours. You can listen, accept and empathise with your teen without agreeing with everything they say.

3. Don't minimise

If you teen comes to you with a worry, don’t tell them they have nothing to worry about. Although it comes from a loving place, this gives the message that you don’t believe their feelings are valid, and it won’t help them process that anxiety. Listen, tune in to what feels difficult for them and keep talking – you don’t need to solve a problem in one conversation.

4. Spend time

Take time to just be together, doing something you both enjoy. It doesn’t need to be anything special – a trip to the supermarket or a dog walk is perfect. Enjoying each other’s company and relaxing together is really important and will help them feel more secure, even if there are difficult things going on in your lives.

5. Make them laugh

There’s truth in the saying that laughter is the best medicine. A good laugh aids bonding between you and your teen, plus it’s soothing to the nervous system and helps release tension.

6. Treats are OK

Make your teen feel special by treating them every now and then. While having boundaries is a really important part of parenting during the teenage years, it’s OK to make the occasional exception and show flexibility. Teens are hard-wired to test parents’ boundaries, so allowing them to make the case for a takeaway or one-off trip let’s them know they are respected and that their feelings and opinions matter to you.

7. Keep them in the loop

When there are changes coming up, keep your teens informed just as you would an adult member of the family. For example, if you’re taking a family trip and your teen will need to share a room with their siblings, make sure you run this by them with plenty of notice and make adjustments if possible.

8. Give them just the right amount of control

A little independence goes a long way, but it’s important to pitch it just right. Too much independence can be overwhelming, so get creative and make sure your teen understands the responsibilities that come with any new independence. 

While it can often feel like a struggle of wills – your teen vying for independence while you work to keep them safe – acknowledging this tension can be enormously helpful. It’s OK that your teen wants control over their own life, and it’s also OK that they still need you, even if they’d never admit it.

9. Prioritise their social life

It’s a huge deal that teens social lives have been so restricted for such a long time. Rites of passage, social skills and emotional literacy have been effectively put on hold, and at this formative time, it’s bound to have an impact. Do what you can to support your child’s social life right now. That could mean giving them lifts or inviting friends round, but it also involves taking an interest in their friendships and helping them to work out and assert their boundaries. If you’re concerned about a certain friend, gently begin a conversation – the more you can talk together about these things, the more you’ll be able to support your teen to have fulfilling, healthy friendships and relationships.

Poppy O'Neill is the author of mental health workbooks for teenagers, including You've Got This!

Further reading

7 ways to improve your relationship with your teenager

How to support a child or teenager who self-harms

5 mindfulness tips to boost resilience in teens

Expressive writing tips for young people

The benefits of therapy for young people