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My son is cracking up with the Covid-19 lockdown and I think I am too

Social experiences that help shape young people have now largely stopped

Question: My son is cracking up with the lockdown and I think I am too. He is just 16 and in transition year and has become really moody and irritable. We have been trying to keep a study and activity routine, but it is hard work and he is spending long hours in his room.

We had hoped that there might be some getting back to school, but now that is dashed. He broke down last night crying, saying he couldn't cope anymore. He is missing his sports (he loved his GAA) and is upset about all the things he has lost in TY (he had two great work placements planned, a school play and an overseas aid trip, all cancelled). Now we have the prospect of an endless summer with little or no possible activities or holidays.

It really upsets me to hear him so distressed. To be honest, I don’t know how we are going to cope with a long summer of near lockdown.

Answer: Your question highlights the many losses and challenges that teenagers and young people have experienced due to the Covid-19 restrictions. While there has been great awareness of the impact of the crisis on older people and medically vulnerable groups, the impact on children and young people have often been overlooked. Indeed, in some of the earlier media reporting, children and young people were portrayed as 'carriers of the disease' and as those who were more selfish and likely to break social-distancing rules, etc. However, the negative impact of social isolation can be particularly acute for children and young people.


For young teenagers such as your son, friendships, socialising and group activities are the centre of their world. It is during these years that they are meant to be having formative social experiences, whether these are in team sports, first trips away, large social and team activities, not to mention first dates and romantic relationships. The social experiences that usually shape a young person’s character have now largely stopped and will be curtailed for many months to come.

While an adult with established work and social connections might be better resourced to deal a with a period of confinement, this is less likely to be the case for a teenager. Further, a six-month loss of social connection is likely to be a much bigger deal in the life of a teenager who is forming social relationships than for an older adult with an existing network of friends.

I was disappointed that the recent national plan to reopen Ireland contained no plans to address this by reopening schools even on a limited basis in the school term or even considering creative options such as replacing lost time in school over the summer.

While social media and ‘online experiences ’ can help , it is a mistake to assume that the virtual world is a replacement for the real-world relationships. Even before Covid-19, many experts were worried about the increased dominance of social media in the lives of young people, with the increased mental health and social problems this may produce.


While it might be distressing to hear your son express his worries and upset, it is actually a good thing that he is talking to you about what is going on for him. It is better that he has moved from being ‘moody’ and ‘withdrawn’ to being open and communicating his feelings. This gives you an insight into his mind and is likely to make him feel better as he gets things off his chest. It is also the first step to explore with him how he might cope. So rather than seeing his upset as a ‘break down’ you can also see it as a breakthrough as he is now talking and communicating.

In responding the key is to listen carefully and to communicate to him that what he is feeling is completely normal and understandable in the context of the Covid-19 restrictions. As he talks repeat what he says and encourage him to say more. Acknowledge his feelings and say you understand. It can also help to say you share some of his feelings and frustrations – “Sometimes I find it really frustrating or that I am cracking up too.” This gives you a chance to communicate that you don’t judge him, that you are in this together and that you can support and help each other cope.

Once you have listened, then you can explore with him what you can do to help. Rather than jumping in with advice and solutions, first ask some gentle questions such as: "What would help you feel better?" or "What can we do to make things a bit better?" etc. There are lots of good solutions such as keeping to routine, focusing on small goals, getting exercise, etc (see 16 coping tips in previous Irish Times article) but it is best if he comes up with these ideas himself and makes his own plans with you in the role as supporter.

Positive steps

While the restrictions are extending into the future, it is helpful to focus on the positive steps and milestones that are outlined in the national plan. How can he make the most of the increased exercise distance of 5km? Who can he plan to meet outdoors when the social distancing is slightly relaxed in future? And what physically distant sports/activities can he play when this comes back, etc? As well as coping in the present in his routine, focusing on hopeful future plans is important to long-term coping.

Even though we are living under Covid-19 restrictions, most mental-health, counselling and family-support services remain fully open and offering phone and online support. For example, you can contact Parentline on 1890-927-277 and the youth mental health service Jigsaw has a telephone helpline on 1800-544-729 that you can ring as a concerned parent

– Dr John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology. For details of courses and books, see