Our years as a teenager are full of ups and downs. There (was and) is a lot going on for young people to deal with and identifying what’s ‘normal’ behavior and what isn’t can be difficult.
As parents, we all hope that our teenagers will develop strong friendships and to feel connected to the world around them. It is also natural to be concerned if your child is spending a lot of time alone or not going out. Mental health has become a much more talked about subject within younger generations than ever before.
The apparent rise in loneliness amongst young people seems to be a topic that is spreading concern to both young and old; visible in forums on various mental health sites such as Beyond Blue. Young people are asking about their own mental health, and parents wondering how they can help their children navigate their way through this loneliness and this period of life. Loneliness not necessarily meaning to be alone but rather the feeling of aloneness even when in the presence of others. Loneliness is a perceived, individual experience. There’s a sense of detachment, alienation, and isolation.
What causes loneliness in teenagers?
Below are some of the reason why a teen might have feelings of loneliness:
- times of change such as moving schools, going from primary to secondary school, or university
- feeling or being excluded from peers, friends and community
- feeling misunderstood or having a sense of not ‘fitting in’, even if they have family and friends around them
- getting bullied at school, online (or elsewhere)
- living with a health condition or disability
- comparing their abilities to others, for example not being picked for a sports team or doing badly in their exams
- experiencing a change to their mental health or wellbeing, or managing a mental health condition
- the loss of a loved one or friend
Unfortunately there isn’t one clearly defined answer for this particular question. A number of factors that can play their part in the number of teens experiencing loneliness.
In this time of their lives, teens are becoming young adults and going through some big life changes. The first change might be moving from primary to high school. Nearing the end of high school and transitioning into the next chapter of studies and work, teens decide who they are going to be, what they want to do, where they want to live, etc. Stepping into a new season of responsibility, making weighty decisions, and gaining independence can often lead to experiences of isolation and loneliness.
How do you know if your teenager is lonely?
It is important to mote that everyone is different in terms of how sociable they are, and how often they like to be with others. This can make it difficult to recognize if a teenager is lonely. Some things to look:
- low self-esteem
- loss of confidence in themselves and abilities
- being or feelings of sadness
- withdrawing and pulling away from others
- getting angry or upset
- a noticeable change in their behavior
- not wanting to engage with hobbies or social activities
- drinking or smoking
What you can do?
For the teenager experiencing loneliness:
When experiencing loneliness, the idea of reaching out and asking for help can seem pointless. Who can support you if there’s no one around? The thing to remember is that there is help available. If you’re not ready to contact a counsellor, there are other options such as online forums.
Think about what things interest you and see if there are any local groups you might be able to join; find people with similar interests to you. If this is a little too much for you, perhaps going to some place and just being around people with a book? Take it slowly and with patience.
For the parent:
If you are concerned about your behavior of your teenager, it might be time to start to talk with them. It may be difficult for them to open up. Let your child know this is safe space where they can talk with you. It might also be helpful to the share an experience from your own life to get them the open up. Listen to what they have to say. Listen with empathy. Most importantly, make sure they know you love and care about them can help. Let them know they can trust you and that you’re always there for them.
It is a bit cliché to say that everyone experiences loneliness at times in the life. The difference is the extent to the which we feel lonely. Getting professional help is OK, especially if/when it’s affecting your mental and physical health. You don’t have to go through this alone. As lonely as you feel, there will always be someone to talk to.
Why? Because you are worth it.