Mind Matters – Looking out for young people

Recently there have been many news articles quoting research that paints a grim picture of the impact of the pandemic on our young people.

Teenage years are supposed to be ones of awakening potential, of moving towards greater freedom, enjoying independence and testing boundaries.

Of course the pandemic, the many restrictions and breaks in routines have thwarted natural process and are naturally having a terrible impact on the psychological wellbeing of many young people.

If you have young people at home then it is really important to find extra time to talk to them, be available and keep a keen ear for when they give clues as to what they are struggling with and what they would like in order to feel better.

But it is also really important to be ready to be open and honest with them yourself, to be candid and to be clear with them about your boundaries.

The relationships between young people and parents are always likely to be demanding as the young try to navigate from dependence to independence, requiring wholesale changes to both behaviours and ways of communicating.

For parents, already put under immense strain by the pandemic themselves, it can be really tough to find the extra time needed to think about how the young are doing.

It is common for parents to feel exasperated by their teenage children as attempts to talk about anything are often difficult and young people’s behaviours can be so perplexing and challenging that it can be really hard both to relate to and be empathic towards their struggles.

Taking a step back all adults know that young people aren’t supposed to be easy for their parents; there is supposed to be a constant tension between connection and disconnection as the young focus on building their sense of self, own view of the world, find what does and doesn’t work for them and having freedom, space and time without other family members around is a key part of that process. Often talking to their parents about what troubles them is the last thing they want to do!

And of course all adults know that whilst modern times provide such a different context with technological and societal changes, what hasn’t changed is the experience of transiting teenage and early adult years.

The way in which the behaviour of the young is understood by an ever increasingly confounding lexicon of psychological language.

For many parents, psychology is disempowering, with complex terms that result in panic and fear and create a context whereby both the parent and the young person start any communication with what appears to be a yawning chasm.

But I would argue that this is no different to what our own parents experienced – of course what is different is that for most parents their teenage years and the lives of their parents were not interrupted by a pandemic.

Back to how developmentally it is such a crucial time: feelings, hormones and expectations are all heightened – it is a time of both great energy, activity and connection with studies, relationships and interest and correspondingly disconnection usually witnessed as withdrawal and ability to sleep but now there has been the pandemic!

Young and old alike have been confronted with change and uncertainty that throws our understanding or what is normal out of the window and as such we are all left uncertain as to what is a healthy coping response and what is an emerging problem.

Even before the pandemic our young people were reporting record levels of mental health struggles but with a worsening situation it is a real challenge for parents to know what is ‘typical teenage’ behaviour and what might be something needing intervention.

The answer? First of all arm yourself with information, read the news reports on mental health and then use them as a way of opening conversations.

Secondly, be ready to listen if they speak about their feelings and what they would like help with.

Be ready to talk with them about how they feel and remember how they feel is their truth and if you dismiss them they will likely withdraw and not want to speak to you again.

If you need to start a conversation it is really helpful to ensure you are clear about exactly your concern – be factual, be prepared to share how you feel and be ready to request something in return.

For example, you are not joining us for mealtimes, I feel anxious and unhappy, could we agree on a way to eat more together?

Remember also to be kind to yourself, if having the conversations is something you are finding difficult then you are not alone. Getting it right all the time is impossible and so if you think a conversation went badly, that you didn’t understand or didn’t have time or were in a bad mood yourself then tell them so and ask if you can try again.

If you are finding conversations impossible then talk to them about who they can trust and speak with themselves. Finally, if all else fails speak to a counsellor or therapist. These are unprecedented times and we are used to speaking with parents about the relationships they have with their children.

Nicholas Rose
Psychotherapist, Counsellor, Couples Counsellor and Coach

UKCP registrant, MBACP (accred), UKRCP
PGDip, MA, Adv Dip Ex Psych

Nicholas Rose & Associates
Counselling, psychotherapy and coaching for children, adults, couples and families.


Read more blogs by Nicholas Rose

Read the next in the series – Mind Matters – Time for a psychological spring clean

Read the previous one – Mind Matters – Looking forward to restrictions easing? Preparation and resilience

See all Nicholas’s Mind Matters blogs here

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