Teen Mental Health – How to Get Your Teen to Open Up and Talk

It's hard to talk to moody kids about teen mental health

Advertorial:  I have been paid for my time in creating this post for Compass Fostering. All writing is my own

Have you ever tried to get your child to talk to you about something that’s worrying them? It’s like a bizzare (and much less enjoyable) game of 20 Questions, isn’t it? Try it with a teenager and you won’t even get Yes/No answers; you’re more likely to be on the receiving end of a couple of grunts, followed by a growl (or shriek) of outrage, and a door in your face. Am I right? 

I think modern teenagers have had a particularly difficult time. Academic anxiety, the pressure to keep up with friends on smartphone apps, and the worry of what their futures look like all seem to be much bigger concerns than they were a few decades ago. So, how should parents talk about teen mental health in a way that feels supportive for their children.  

Teen mental health is a huge issue right now

The disruption caused by the pandemic is having a lasting effect. Long after the anxiety of the virus passed, the repercussions of missed school, missed opportunities for developing a peer group, and uncertainty over exam results are still impacting teenagers’ outcomes – and the way they feel. Many teens are now socially anxious, having missed out on the unique opportunities to bond and figure out who they are in the early years of secondary school. In fact, after those sitting GCSEs and A-Levels during the pandemic, years 7 and 8 children are recognised as having been the year groups most affected by the loss of daily contact with their peer group.  

Talking with your teen about their mental health might seem too difficult, but I think it’s an essential part of preparing them for resilience in their adult lives. 

How to get your teen to open up about their mental health

Compass Fostering are encouraging parents to find ways to discuss teen mental health at home now. Their Community Psychologist Louise Nicol advises that getting your child to talk about their worries with you can be easier if it’s done during a joint activity. I can absolutely vouch for that, and it’s one of the reasons I never ask my children direct questions about their worries, even if it’s making me burst with impatience. Yes, I see you, worried parent who just wants to fix things as soon as possible, and I’m totally with you! But it doesn’t work. Here’s what I do when I want my kids to let me know what’s really going on:

3 Activities guaranteed to get your teen to talk

Young people cooking

I’ve found that my kids are much more likely to involve me in their problems if we’re in a casual situation; they’re even more inclined to open up gradually over a long period of time. So although in my head I want to understand all the detail, form an action plan, and get everything sorted immediately, I’ve learned that teen mental health is better handled if I’m just the sounding board over a longer series of conversations that allow my child to sort things out for themselves. After all, isn’t that what we’re aiming for ultimately? They’re not going to be ringing us to go and sort out their friendship issues when they’re 24, are they?

1. Talk to your kids on a car jouney

I’ve known since they were little that the best time to talk to my kids if I really want to know about their days is while we’re in the car. I think the winning point here is that there’s no eye contact. Look them straight in the eye over the dinner table and my question about why they failed their maths test is going to induce silent rage. Do it in the rear view mirror and I’m much more likely to (eventually) get some sensible answers. Lots of my children’s friendship issues have been resolved over the years en route to football practice, or on a supermarket run. In fact, it’s sometimes even better if we can discuss things in short bursts over the course of a week’s worth of journeys.

2. Go for a walk

If I get more than 5 words out of my teenage son once he’s started on his XBox it’s a good day. Getting him out for the daily dog walk (his dog, by the way, that he begged for, and promised to walk every day) requires skilful time management (because you can’t pause an online game, mum!) and a countdown of warnings prior to the poor dog getting a glimpse of his lead. 

But once we’re out… Sometimes it takes a few minutes, but more often than not the dog walk is the time of day when he’ll forget that he’s a bored teenager, and become that boy who used to love to share his thoughts on the world. And just occasionally – interspersed with pauses to chat to other dog walkers, or tell me something funny that Rocket did that morning – I get to hear about something that’s bothering him. If I wait long enough, and ask some open questions, he’ll often make a decision on his next move with a particular dilemma. And maybe we’ll talk about how that went the next time we walk. If I can manage his Fifa commitments well enough.

3.Play Fifa with them

And to be clear, I don’t mean “play.” But if I sit on the sofa for half an hour while my son plays Fifa, or my daughter builds a new house for her Sims, this will often be the time they’ll decide to confide something in me. I don’t mean right away. First I’ll need to ask some questions about Ronaldo, the best way to score from a penalty kick, or how frequently the cooker sets on fire if you’re not rested (Sims – not real life). But once the conversation is flowing I can usually ask them about their mood without them clamming up. Sometimes they’ll talk, sometimes not, but if I’m patient – in amongst the tile choices for the new bathroom, or the kit colours for Fifa 21 – we might talk about the teacher they’re not looking forward to next week, or the friendship dilemma they have. 

Activities for teens - Things for teenagers to do at home that don't involved gaming


Why Compass Fostering are keen to open up conversations about mental health

Compass are a fostering agency that provides amazing care for some of the UK’s most vulnerable children. It’s been a rough few months for a lot young people during lockdown. Ultimately they’re encouraging parents and caregivers to talk to their kids about their feelings, using their psychologists’ approved methods to do so. They use these in therapy with looked after children who have experienced trauma, so these methods of addressing teen mental health are tried and tested.

There’s a national shortage of foster carers in the UK, with a lot more children coming into foster care than there are fostering families to look after them. Compass believe that people with an interest in children’s mental health would be brilliant candidates to foster with them as they’ll have understanding and be able to nurture children who may be struggling.

About Compass Fostering

  • Compass believe that people with an interest in children’s mental health could make brilliant foster parents, as they’ll have understanding and be able to nurture children who may be struggling. You can find out more about becoming a foster parent here.
  • We focus on therapeutic parenting and training our foster parents to give the best possible care they can. Many looked after children and young people have complex emotional needs, so working with dedicated professionals we make sure our young people have the best possible support available.
  • Our highly experienced teams work with children and families to provide services that improve the self-esteem, confidence, life chances, achievements and placement stability of our young people we care for along with meeting the needs of our foster families.
  • At Compass, we know that successful placements depend on attention to detail. That’s why we take the time to listen carefully to the needs of our foster carers and their families, empowering them to give a child a fulfilling future and rewarding them for the care they provide.
  • It’s why we offer round-the-clock support, a generous allowance, professional training and an outstanding Education Service for our fostered children.
  • There is currently a national shortage of foster carers in the UK. We’re looking for people who could offer a safe, stable, loving environment for young people who haven’t had the best start in life. 

2 thoughts on “Teen Mental Health – How to Get Your Teen to Open Up and Talk”

  1. I would like to agree with the tips provided above. My parents sometimes talk to me while we’re in the car and it actually make me feel more relaxed when I talked to them. One of my biggest reason why I rarely ever want to talk about my problem is because parents tends to give advise when we just want some company to talk about our problem.


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