teens

"I feel utterly helpless." How parents of teens are really feeling right now.

"I haven’t got a single thing to look forward to," she screams while dissolving into what we would normally dismiss as her being a melodramatic teenager. 

Except this time she isn’t being melodramatic. And she is not alone. 

This scene has been played out by teens across Australia since the COVID-19 pandemic reached our shores in March 2020. 

In the past 18 months, Australian teenagers have seen their final years of school disrupted in ways they could never have imagined. There have been cancelled trips, sporting events, festivals, graduations, concerts, formals, performances, and the list goes on and on. 

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Video via Mamamia.

As parents, we have sat and listened to our teens as they despaired at the uncertainty of the events unfolding, not knowing if they will sit their exams, or what this means for the future they had mapped out. 

"When our teens look forward to things, it is done with passion. It’s what gets them through all the angst at school, and the never-ending pressure they put on themselves," Tracey, who has a 16-year-old daughter, told Mamamia. "When these things get cancelled, it is hard to look forward."

For Pia’s daughter, it has been a challenging time. "She slips into a mood and will cry, so I try anything to cheer her up," Pia shared. "The other night we ate ice cream in her bed at 11pm and just talked."

Another mother told Mamamia that her daughter in Year 11 is contemplating dropping out of school all together – something she would never have considered before remote learning began. "She is a good student and has plans for university. She is just sick of doing her schoolwork online and is missing her friends," Laura* said.

It isn’t just our girls that are finding this hard. Many teenage boys are used to being very active throughout the week. To have that taken away to sit in front of a screen all day is a challenge. 

"[My son] has struggled with remote learning," one mother in regional Victoria shared. "He needs to be in a classroom environment and says sitting at his computer all day makes him angry. We have accepted that with remote learning, he will only do the bare minimum."

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"He is normally a funny, gregarious, really witty kid," another mother said. "The minute they mention lockdowns, he retreats. He won’t eat, shower or speak. I can see it f**king with his brain and I can’t fix it or protect him from it."

Sara*, a mother of three boys south of Sydney, is facing a challenge on two fronts. Her boys moved to a new school just prior to the 2020 lockdown and found it hit them hard. They had not found their tribe at their new school before they were all sent home. And when school returned, it was with mixed success. 

Sara’s eldest son has since changed schools and is thriving in lockdown. "He is self sufficient and a compliant learner. He’s happy to do school from home and he’s doing really well. He’s an introvert and has cemented a group of online gaming friends and is not disturbed by not having face-to-face friends. It is like he has given that whole stage of life away."

On the other hand, Sara’s younger two sons are facing different challenges. While Sara’s middle son is struggling at school, it is her youngest son she worries for the most. 

"He’s not embedded in any friendship group, he’s not connected to anyone, and he barely leaves the house," Sara told Mamamia. "He's not 'in' anymore with his friends from [his old school] and he hasn’t yet met a tribe here. He’s happy within our home life, but... I worry that he isn’t developing all those social skills which he should have."

Outside the social ramifications of lockdowns and remote learning on our teens, the virus itself is a different beast altogether. Amid new Delta outbreaks across the country, there has been a significant increase in COVID-19 cases among children and teenagers.

"She slips into a mood and will cry, so I try anything to cheer her up," one mother shared. Image: Getty.

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My own teenage daughters have casual jobs on check-out at the local supermarket. The supermarket has implemented every safety measure they can. But as a parent, I’m terrified that my girls will make contact with a colleague or customer that unknowingly has COVID-19. My daughters are yet to be vaccinated and if they contract the virus and end up in the hospital, they will be almost certainly be there alone, without their parents.

I feel helpless. And I’m helpless in other ways too. I watch them, as other parents are watching their teens, as they shrink inside of themselves, fading a little bit more each day. 

It isn’t just parents and teens feeling it; our teachers are on the frontline of remote learning – and they are noticing the issues as well. 

Britt is a teacher in south-west Sydney, where the case numbers in the community are high. Her students are largely from lower socio-economic areas and migrant backgrounds. 

"In some cases not only is there a language barrier, there are also technological barriers as their parents are also unfamiliar with many technologies," Britt told Mamamia

"There are financial constraints as well, with many families not having laptops or computers at home for their kids or multiple kids sharing the one device. This puts them at a significant educational disadvantage, placing an emotional strain on families in general," she continued.

"We are also seeing more students present with mental health issues, including anxiety specifically, than ever before."

The strain on teenagers and their mental health is also being reflected in the demand for services like Kids Helpline.

"There is clear evidence that lockdown is impacting the wellbeing of children and young people, with demand for Kids Helpline increasing by 20 per cent nationally when compared to pre-COVID times," Yourtown CEO Tracy Adams told Mamamia.

"It is further evidenced by what we are seeing right now as a result of the enduring nature of Sydney’s lockdown, with contacts to Kids Helpline by children and young people in New South Wales increasing by more than 150 per cent across the state and close to 300 per cent in the Greater Sydney region, when we compare data to the same period last year," she added.

"Kids Helpline counsellors state that the average percentage rate of contacts from children and young people to Kids Helpline that require counsellors to intervene and make contact to emergency services for suicide-related concerns has averaged 31 per cent since January 2021." 

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Similarly, Justin Coulson, a parenting expert and father of six, told Mamamia: "Kids that were generally doing okay before lockdowns continue to do okay now, but kids that already had additional needs, mental health issues or were maybe not quite okay [pre-COVID] are seeing an exacerbation of any issues that might have been present previously."

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So how can we support our teens right now? 

It's important to keep (where possible) a sense of humour about things and accept that it is a difficult time for everyone. We haven’t faced anything like this before in our lives, and as their parents, we are doing our best as we know they are. 

Speaking to Mamamia, Justin shared two tips for parents to help their teens: 

1. Connection is the most important thing of all. 

  • Try to find ways to connect in their language and on their terms.
  • Help them find ways to connect with their friends face-to-face legally in a COVID-safe manner.

2. Physical activity and movement.

  • Physical activity is food for the soul. Put the screens down, step outside, find somewhere that you can go and just move outside. 

Similarly, Tracy Adams said: "It is critically important that we continue to enable help and support through as many channels as possible. Despite many children not able to attend school, our Kids Helpline @ School program has been delivering virtual support to primary school children across Australia in record numbers since the pandemic, with new topics being added to the sessions to match demand."

All the things our teens crave, we crave too. We’ve got this. We might not be in the same boat but we are all in the same storm. Lean on your village now more than ever. 

*Name has been changed.


If you, or a young person you know, is struggling with with depression or another mental health problem, please contact your local headspace centre here or chat to them online, here. If you are over the age of 25 and suffering from symptoms of mental illness, please contact your local GP for a Mental Health Assessment Plan or call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

Kid's Helpline is also available on 1800 551 800.


Confused about Snapchat? Unsure about TikTok? Meet the Safe on Social Toolkit: the digital 'survival kit' designed to arm parents with everything they need to know about keeping their kids safe online. Find out more now at www.safeonsocialtoolkit.com. 

Feature Image: Getty.