How Do I Help My Lonely Child?

It’s perfectly normal to want to be on our own from time to time but what can you do when your teen doesn’t seem to have any friends or is suffering lockdown loneliness?

Loneliness can strike any of us at any time, but teens are more likely to have friendship issues throughout puberty, resulting in feelings of isolation and depression. A report from Childline in 2019* revealed that 5,100 children had received counselling sessions about loneliness with concerns about friendships making up 5% of their total calls. 

It’s a worrying issue that has only worsened in 2020 with restrictions and lockdowns putting massive strain on relationships, schooling and day-to-day lives. 

Childline reported in April 2020† that young people were mostly talking about:

  • Struggling with increased feelings of depression and anxiety.
  • Having panic attacks more frequently. 
  • Having nightmares or finding it difficult to fall asleep. 
  • Feeling lonely or isolated. 

“Young people use the word ‘trapped’ to describe how they feel about being at home, particularly since strict social distancing measures were put in place. Not being able to go to school, visit family or friends or take part in activities outside of the family home is having a negative impact on their mental health.”

As lockdowns linger on and restrictions tie us even more firmly to our homes, it’s no surprise that loneliness is having such a dramatic effect on our teens’ mental health. They’ve had to face huge disruption in their lives, been made to stay at home and asked to stay away from their schools, friends and clubs/hobbies. Loneliness is a serious symptom of this awful pandemic but there are ways we can help our young people feel more connected to their friends – and to their ‘normal’ pre-pandemic lives…

Establish The Cause

While lockdown may certainly be to blame for your child’s loneliness, there may be other factors to consider. Was your child lonely before lockdown? Did they spend a lot of time alone? Did they have little or no friends, or seem to struggle to maintain meaningful friendships for any length of time? Ask your teen to read our Why Do I Feel So Lonely? To determine the possible reasons for why they are feeling so isolated. 

Initiate a conversation to try and find out why your teen is feeling this way. If they seem reluctant to talk, ask them to write down how they’re feeling and what they think the reasons are in the privacy of their bedroom. You can suggest that you read it together afterwards, or alone if they prefer.

Talk to your teen about each of the reasons they have written down and gently suggest various ways to tackle each point. Take a look at the issues below for possible next steps:

Forging Friendships

If your child has fallen out with friends or struggles to make friends, you can find some simple steps here Why Do I Feel So Lonely? for ideas on how to make friends. Joining new groups or clubs is a great way to meet new people but could be difficult at the moment due to restrictions. However, many clubs are now operating online via Zoom or Microsoft Teams – ask fellow parents or your teen’s school if there are any available in your local area.

Missing Friends

Your teen may simply be missing their friends and classmates due to COVID-19. This is something we can all relate to and it’s a difficult one to overcome, especially with ever-changing restrictions, but it’s not impossible. Most teens are probably using the likes of FaceTime or Snapchat to keep in touch with friends daily and yet it doesn’t fully substitute the quality face-to-face social experience they are used to. People need regular social contact for good mental health. 

Most tiers will allow your teen to meet friends outdoors so encourage your child to go out and meet up with a friend for a distanced walk, even if it’s just a quick stroll around the block. Those short meetings will go a long way to boosting their mood. 

Feeling Different Or Depressed

Your teen may be experiencing deep feelings of isolation due to their sexual orientation, gender identity, disabilities or race. It could also be due to a recent bereavement, a family separation, moving home or starting a new school. This may be something that they don’t feel comfortable or ready to discuss with you, so, if you suspect that this may be the case, encourage your child to talk to a trusted teacher at school or to ring Childline on 0800 1111 to talk about anything that may be worrying them in total confidence.

If your child does identify with any of these reasons and confides in you, reassure them that you will be there to support them and that you are on their side. You may need to talk to your teen’s school, your wider family, a professional counsellor or a GP to get them the help they need. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have all the answers or can’t instantly ‘fix’ things for your teen – what’s important to them is to be heard and to feel like you understand and respect their worries and concerns. 

When To Get Help

If the root of your teen’s loneliness is something more serious, like bullying, you can reach out to get help. Talk to your child’s school to report any bullying or to ask if your child is showing any signs of distress. Your child’s school should work with you to tackle the bullying and can put procedures in place to ensure your child receives extra support if required.

Some children may be feeling a deep sense of loneliness nearly all the time. They could have little or no self-confidence and feel as if no-one else in the world could possibly like them. If your teen is exhibiting signs of depression or you are seriously concerned about their mood, talk to your GP. They can assess, diagnose and treat your child, most likely with talking therapy or antidepressants, or a mixture of both. 

For more information on mental health: https://www.mind.org.uk



Curated by

Vicky Bird
Vicky is a Bacp accredited counsellor and supervisor in private practice in Hampshire. You can contact Vicky via Psychologytoday