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