Recently, there has been a concerning rise in reported feelings of loneliness among teenagers, a trend mirrored globally and in Singapore. One study by the National University of Singapore (NUS) identified loneliness as one of the major mental health symptoms experienced by participants, along with persistent sadness and anxiety. The study also found more severe symptoms in the age group of participants aged 14 to 16, subsequently identifying these youth as the most at-risk subset.
While some degree of loneliness is a normal part of growing up, chronic, persistent, and intense loneliness may require intervention from parents and teachers. If your child attends a global international school in Singapore or another reputable educational institution, you can trust that their school likely has a robust mental health program in place to help them navigate and overcome feelings of isolation. As a parent, your role in this equation involves learning as much as you can about teen loneliness in order to better support your child’s mental and emotional well-being at home.
This article delves deeper into the rising tide of loneliness among high schoolers, exploring its complexities, its roots, and its potential solutions.
Understanding Loneliness in Teenagers
Over the years, research on loneliness and social isolation has consistently counted teenagers and young adults as among the loneliest people in the world—a phenomenon that cuts across cultural, racial, and gender lines. Besides the abovementioned NUS study, a 2018 report on loneliness by the global insurance company Cigna found that feelings of isolation were most common among survey participants aged 18 to 22. The BBC Loneliness Experiment, a British study with 55,000 participants also conducted in 2018, likewise found that youth between the ages of 16 and 24 reported the highest levels of loneliness.
A number of social, emotional, and even medical factors contribute to this surge in loneliness in the youth. Some of the most significant of these include the following:
- Experiences of personal loss or rejection, such as deaths in the family, the end of a friendship or romantic relationship, encounters with exclusionary cliques at high schools, and bullying
- Challenges with emotional regulation, personal identity, and self-esteem, which occur naturally as a teenager’s brain matures
- The prevalence of digital technology and social media, where highly curated news feeds and shallow interactions can exacerbate feelings of inadequacy and isolation
- Mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety, which have also become increasingly prevalent among adolescents worldwide
Signs Your Teen Is Struggling with Loneliness
While loneliness is often a deeply personal experience, there are signs that parents can watch for that might indicate a teenager is struggling with feelings of isolation, including:
- Loss of interest in activities they formerly found enjoyable
- Declining academic performance
- Changes in appetite or sleeping patterns
- Emotional changes, such as increased episodes of frustration, sadness, or irritability
- Withdrawal from personal relationships or social activities
It’s also important to note that not all teens express their loneliness in obvious ways. Some may disguise their feelings of isolation behind a mask of independence or indifference. Others may immerse themselves in online activities or relationships, which may seem socially engaging but may not fulfill their deeper need for connection. Even teenagers who seem popular and surrounded by friends can feel lonely, as loneliness is not simply about the quantity of social interactions, but also their quality.
While these signs can indicate loneliness, they can also point to other emotional difficulties or mental health conditions. The best thing you can do as a parent is approach these signals with empathy and an open mind. Initiate a compassionate conversation about what your child is experiencing and seek professional help if needed.
How Parents Can Help Lonely Teenagers
Parents play a critical role in creating a supportive environment and teaching their teens essential social and emotional skills. Try these strategies to help your teen combat loneliness:
Have Meaningful Conversations with Your Teen
Start by asking your child open-ended questions about their day or their feelings, and listen attentively to their responses. Ensure they feel heard and validated by responding empathetically and avoid offering unsolicited advice. The goal is to show your teen that it’s safe for them to share their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment. In a society where the discussion of mental health can sometimes be stigmatized, fostering an open dialogue can be an incredibly empowering step for your child.
Spend Quality Time Together
Finding ways to reinforce your connection with your child can remind them they’re not alone and that they have a supportive network at home. This could involve engaging in shared hobbies, watching a movie together, or even preparing and sharing meals as a family. Quality time provides opportunities for informal conversations and can reinforce the emotional bond between you and your teenager.
Recommend Interest Groups, Volunteering Opportunities, and Other Activities
Encourage your child to participate in activities outside of school that align with their hobbies and interests, such as co-curricular clubs or volunteer organizations. This may help them meet like-minded peers and eventually find a social circle in which they feel included and at home.
Help Them Identify Other Trustworthy People to Talk To
Meaningful connections are the best antidote to loneliness, so it’s always a good idea to help your child identify other trustworthy adults to include in their support system. This might be a teacher, a school counselor, a sports coach, or a family friend. Having additional trusted individuals in their life can offer your teen alternative perspectives and advice, which can be particularly beneficial if they’re feeling misunderstood or isolated.
Every teenager’s experience with loneliness is unique and may require different forms of support. What’s important is that parents maintain open lines of communication and provide their children with resources and opportunities to connect with others.