How to help your teen when they’re feeling lonely and isolated

mother and son hugging

When your teenager is shutting themselves away in their room, refusing to join in family activities and is being generally withdrawn, it’s hard to know what to say or do to help them. You can support them by strengthening your own connection and by helping them to connect with others.

Is your teen just introverted?

Sometimes teens need a break from social activity, and being alone gives them time to recharge. If your teen is introverted, they might prefer to spend time alone rather than hang out with friends and family all the time.

Most people are on a spectrum between introversion and extroversion and it can be difficult to tell where on that spectrum someone is. This is especially true with teens, who might try to act more extroverted than they really are in order to fit in at school.

Have a discussion with your teen about what sorts of social activities they like, and to what extent (e.g. how often, for how long, and with how many other people). This will help you to understand what will help make them feel socially connected. Teens who are more introverted still need to feel connected, just in different ways.

If your teen is being more withdrawn than usual, or is spending less time with friends, they might be feeling lonely or disconnected.

Strengthen your connection with your teen

It’s possible that your teen will reject your first offer of help. But even if they refuse to talk to you, it’s really important that you keep trying to connect with them. If your teen is feeling sad and frustrated because they’re socially isolated, your role as a parent is to provide a safe and consistent place for them.

Here are some things that can help you to strengthen your connection with your teen:

  • Start a conversation. Asking your teen how they’re going and opening up a conversation can help you to figure out if they’re feeling lonely and whether there are other things going on, too. If they don’t want to talk, that’s okay – let them know that when they’re ready, you’ll be there for them.

  • Be available and present. When talking to your teen, focus your attention on them and actively listen to what they’re saying.

  • Do some activities together. Simple activities like taking a walk around the block after dinner or going for a drive can help your teen feel connected with you. It’ll also provide a less confronting opportunity for them to talk about how they’re feeling.

  • Relate to and validate your teen. Tell them about times when you felt lonely as a teenager (or as an adult) and explain how those feelings passed. Let them know that everyone feels like this sometimes.

Help your teen connect with others

Working, volunteering and being creative are ways teenagers can contribute to their community in areas where they feel useful and knowledgeable. It’s likely they will find other people in these environments (whether in real life or online) who can become their peers and friends.

Here are some ways you can support your teen to connect with others:

  • Find interest groups in your area. Check out your teen’s school, or your local library or council, or search the Ending Loneliness Directory online, for interest groups that are available for free or at a low cost.

  • Find volunteering opportunities. Suggest that your teen volunteer for a cause they’re interested in. They could help out at an animal shelter or a homeless shelter, or they could coach a younger sports team. They can check out what’s listed online to get started.

  • Nurture your relationships with other parents. Invite families with teenagers to visit and share meals, so that another teenager is there to connect with your child.

  • Encourage your teen to find a part-time or casual job. Work can be a great way for your teen to meet new people. Help them to write a resume that outlines their skills, achievements and strengths, and the positive contribution they make to their school or community. Be prepared to help them talk with local business owners about potential jobs, then encourage your teen to apply for them. For more tips, watch our video Should I help my teen get a job?.

  • Suggest other people for them to talk to. Not all teenagers want to share their feelings with their parents. You could help them to identify other trusted adults they could talk to, like an aunt, a neighbour, a friend’s older brother, a teacher or even their school counsellor. If they don’t want to talk in person, they could hop on to the ReachOut Online Community, which is a safe space for young people to share anonymously about what’s going on with them.

Remember to look after yourself

It’s so important to look after yourself while supporting your teen. There’s a bunch of things you can do to take care of yourself, but here are some key ones:

  • Talk to other parents. You’d be surprised by how many of your friends and colleagues struggle with similar issues with their teens. Other parents might be able to share ideas or strategies that have worked for them. Check out the ReachOut Parents Forums to chat with like-minded parents of teenagers.

  • Prioritise your own wellbeing. Remember what they say on planes: in the event of an emergency, fit your own oxygen mask first, then help others. Get some ideas to help you practise self-care.

When your teen is experiencing loneliness and isolation, it’s common to feel like you’re going through it alone as well. However, many parents of teenagers have experienced the same thing, and their teen has emerged from the difficult times stronger and more connected.