Social Withdrawal in Teenagers: How To Support Your Teen

While Covid may seem a lifetime ago, the impact from the aftermath is still being felt. The isolation that was brought about via social distancing, time off school and self-isolation may not be entirely known yet but for some it has clearly taken its toll on teen mental health. Here are some ways you can support your teenager, and where to go for additional help.

Hormonal shifts, a changing body and a developing sense of independence can result in your teenager preferring to opt-out of family time to be by themselves. This desire to be alone or apart is often quite normal; however, most of us know all too well that the social distancing measures of the pandemic have created its own stress and isolation. If your teenager is a lot more socially withdrawn than usual, there are ways to help connect with them and support their feelings.

Create Space to Talk - If your teenager is regularly turning down social situations - whether that be a group call or games night with their friends or watching a film as a family - they might find it easier to talk one-on-one. This doesn't have to be serious talk about important matters. Take advantage of time spent together doing an activity, such as going for a walk, driving to the supermarket or doing chores.

Not being face to face really can help the conversation flow, and you'll often find a casual chat leads into a heart-to-heart. The important part is being present and listening to their chatter so your teen can make that connection with you.

Acknowledge and Validate Your Teen's Emotions - Openly telling your teenager that you know how they feel may be met with eye-rolling at first, but most teens want someone to validate how they are feeling and recognise what they are going through. Sometimes, a way of showing that you understand what someone is telling you is to interject their story with a similar one of your own. However, this can make it seem like you're not listening and simply rushing in with your own advice.

Make it about them and reassure them by admitting how normal it is to be feeling lonely, isolated or anxious because of the situation right now. 

Model Good Communication - Showing a genuine openness in the way you talk to your partner or to other members of the family helps set the tone for your teenager. Share details about your day at the dinner table and include parts that aren't so good. Ask each family member how they are and listen to their stories. This fosters an open environment in which your teen will feel that they can talk and their opinions will be valued.  

Give Them Quality Alone Time - Though it may sound counterintuitive, giving teens relaxation time away from schoolwork or chores can help them to re-energise. They may be feeling particularly overstretched if they have been helping to occupy their younger siblings while parents are working, and this effect doubles if they also share a bedroom. Give your teen a few hours' break from any responsibilities and then schedule something fun as a family for afterwards. Their willingness to join in may be higher after relaxing, compared to straight after babysitting or chores.

Ask Your Teen to Teach You - A lot of people enjoy passing on their knowledge about a subject they love. If your teenager has a favourite hobby or interest, ask them to give you a crash course. This shows you are interested and invested and will be a chance to share 'quality' time. Be open to their interests and - as far as your health allows - give anything a go. It could be anything from yoga and football techniques to photography or video gaming. Sharing TikTok scrolling, a mind-numbing TV series or even music from a band they like (but you don't) can give you an opportunity to talk and share opinions. 

Even if you're worried you won't know what to say or how to support them, just being there and being earnest speaks volumes as it will help remind your teen they are important and you love them. 

You can find further support for you and your teenager at:

  • - Mental health and wellbeing charity
  • - UK charity with mental health support and services tailored for children and young people
  • - Mental health initiative spearheaded by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge