Kids Tweens & Teens

How to engage with lonely teens

We all hope our teenagers develop strong friendships and feel connected to the world around them. But if they’re spending a lot of time alone, it’s natural to wonder if this is okay. Here, the team from Bupa provides tips on understanding loneliness in teens and talking through the issues.

Understanding the cause

We often think about loneliness affecting mostly older people, but a 2018 survey called The Loneliness Experiment suggests it affects young people much more – teens, in particular.

Children and young people are growing up in a different world to us. Screen-based activities and the online world have a huge influence over how they interact with others and experience life. There are lots of positives to this, but when young people compare themselves to others online, it can lead to feelings of isolation.

Loneliness in teens - Teenager sad

Other circumstances can cause loneliness and isolation, too, including:

  • feeling misunderstood or not “fitting in”;
  • sports and academic ability – not being picked for a team, for example;
  • being bullied;
  • living with a long-term condition or disability, including a mental health issue; and
  • moving schools or relocating

Tips for dealing with loneliness in teens

If you’re worried about your teenager’s behaviour and they’re finding it difficult to open up, it might be time to have a gentle conversation with them. Try the following tips.

#1 Take the lead

Show your child that they can lean on you for support and talk to you. While some kids will come to you with their problems, others might not, so it may be up to you to give them the nudge they need to open up.

#2 Keep your cool

It can be distressing hearing your child is struggling or unhappy. But it’s important that you try to stay calm in the face of what they tell you.

#3 Set up a safe space

Think about a time and place where you’ll be able to have a conversation without being interrupted, and in a place that’s comfortable for your child. It might be on a walk or at home when no one else is there. Evening mightn’t be the best time of day if you and your child are tired.

#4 Try conversation starters

Starting the conversation can be difficult. There might be an opportunity to bring it into a conversation naturally – for example, if you’re watching TV together and something relevant comes up as a starting point. Or, if it feels right, let your child know directly that you’d like to talk to them about something and take it from there.

#5 Take a break

It’s not always easy to know how a conversation might go. If your child is defensive or unreceptive, leave it there for now but return to it again in a few days’ time. You might find that your child comes to you after they’ve had a bit of time and feel ready to talk.

#6 Be a listener

Remember that a conversation is a two-way thing. Listening to your teen is important. Give them time to answer as they might be nervous about opening up. Ask questions that require more than a yes or no answer. Explain that feeling lonely isn’t about how many friends you’ve got – it’s not a measure of popularity; it’s a feeling and there are ways to feel less lonely.

#7 Show your support

There might not be a straightforward way or answer to help your child. So be sure to let them know they can trust you and that you’re always there for them. You can ask your child if there’s something you can do that will help them.

This article was brought to you by Bupa Global. | 2531 8562 |

Disclaimer: This article was designed and produced by Bupa Global by searching internal and external data and information for information provision and reference purposes only. Any views or information mentioned in this article/webpage are based on general situations. Readers shouldn’t regard them as medical advice or recommendations. Before making any decisions about the theme of this article, you are recommended to seek independent advice from suitable professionals (doctors, nutritionists, etc.). It is clearly stated that Bupa Global will not bear any responsibilities for others’ usage or interpretation of the information listed in this article. When preparing and/or updating this article, Bupa Global endeavours to ensure that the content is accurate, complete and updated but will not bear any responsibilities nor make any warranty or guarantee for the accuracy, completeness and timeliness of the information or for any claims and/or losses caused thereby.


Read more useful tips in our Kids section:

Fun ways to be active with your kids
How to deal with food allergies in kids
Expat guide to international schools in Hong Kong


This article first appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.