Teenage Loneliness: 3 Ways to Help Your Lonely Teen
Updated: Jul 3
Takeaway: In this post, I explain how teenagers deal with loneliness, wondering if it’s normal for your teen to be lonely, discussing the difference between teenage loneliness and teenage isolation, and ways to help your teen cope with feeling lonely.
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Teenage loneliness is becoming a more widely known issue and discussed topic amongst parents and other teens. Teens are more freely talking about their feelings of loneliness with their friends, parents, and other trusted individuals. This could be due to the lowering of mental health sigma or it’s becoming more acceptable to discuss feelings around others. Nevertheless, both hypotheses of why teenagers appear to be discussing loneliness are considered to be good things.
As a teen therapist in Orange County, currently there is a mental health crisis around the world due to the pandemic aftermath, effects of social media, inability to unplug from electronics, and the shifts in social interaction and connections. All of these factors have played a part in the increase in teenage loneliness.
Causes of Teenage Loneliness
In a 2021 study, increases in adolescent loneliness showed a possible correlation to the rise of smartphone and internet use. Teens might be scrolling through their social media seeing how other teens appear to be happy and have smiling pictures and status updates. These posts send a message that indicates everyone must have it all together. The lonely teen that observes happy smiling social media typically gets the idea that “everyone is happy and put together but me.”
A big cause of teenage loneliness is social anxiety. The teenage years are hard when it comes to being a part of a friend group. Learning to be a good friend and navigating healthy and unhealthy friendships can cause a significant amount of stress and anxiety for teenagers.
Social anxiety stems from extreme fear of being judged or criticized by others. Teens who have social anxiety will tend to avoid social interactions and events that consist of opportunities to meet people, socialize in a group, and talk with strangers. Even though most teenagers have a natural instinct to want to be included and have a friend tribe, their social anxiety will get in the way causing teenage loneliness.
Lastly, another cause of teenage loneliness is a recent change in their environment such as switching schools, moving, divorce, or loss in a relationship or friendship. Certain adjustments in a teenager’s life can cause them to feel like they are the only ones going through this significant change. Teens might see their friends having fun and a good time and think, “they are happy and having fun thus, they would have no idea what I am going through.”
Is It Normal to Have a Lonely Teenager?
Due to development, teens are often moody, hormonal, and have difficulty regulating their highs and lows. Most teens are aware of the ups and downs; however, they don’t know that at times it’s normal for a teen to experience a rollercoaster of emotions.
In addition, teenagers have difficulty assessing whether other teens are going through the same thing. It might be due to teens having a hard time communicating their vulnerability and seeking emotional support. Therefore, teens often feel alone due to feeling embarrassed and/or ashamed of their intense emotions and their inability to evaluate whether what they are going through is normal.
On the other hand, there are definitely times when lonely teens are experiencing emotions and symptoms that aren’t normal. One of the differences to look out for is understanding teenage loneliness versus teenage isolation.
Teenage Loneliness vs Teenage Isolation
Some people get confused with the difference between teenage loneliness and teenage isolation. The main difference between loneliness and isolation is one is a reaction to the other.
For teenagers, it is normal to feel lonely at times. However, when a teen has been managing a significant amount of loneliness for a while, one of the responses to extreme loneliness is teenage isolation. Typically, it isn’t as black and white as I am explaining it.
Usually, a teenager experiences loneliness from time to time however, over a consistent period of time depression and social anxiety can set in. When lonely teens are struggling with depression and social anxiety, a common reaction is teenagers will isolate themselves to avoid stressful situations and people.
The more significant and intense a teenager deals with loneliness, the more chances the teenager will decide to purposely isolate themselves as a response to stress and fear.
How to Recognize Teenage Loneliness
It’s important to recognize the signs of teenage loneliness in your teens. Lonely teens are aware they are lonely however, they have a difficult time verbalizing that they are lonely. They feel alone in that no one could possibly understand how they are feeling or what they are going through. So they avoid talking about their loneliness.
Parents of teenagers who can recognize the signs of teenage loneliness can help their teen feel less alone by acknowledging their loneliness and giving them space to talk about their loneliness. It’s a great opportunity for parents to connect with their teenager by recognizing their teen needs someone to see and support them.
Here are a some signs of a lonely teen:
Your lonely teen might appear more standoffish around others due to feeling the need to protect themselves from being criticized or judged.
Your lonely teen might have difficulty connecting with others due to feeling uncomfortable with initiating conversations and being vulnerable.
Your lonely teen might feel reluctant to share their feelings with others even when they are distressed due to fear of not being understood or accepted.
Your lonely teen might withdraw from friends due to rejection or the stress of navigating conflict in friendships.
Ways to Help Your Teen Cope With Feeling Lonely
As a parent, it is hard to see your lonely teen struggle. Most teens don’t know how to cope with feeling lonely. Helping your teen manage their feelings of loneliness can increase their confidence in working through the loneliness and feel connected with a loved one.
Here are three ways to help your teen cope with feeling lonely:
1. Take a Walk with Them
Sometimes just going on a walk with your teen helps them get out of the house and process their thoughts and feelings while moving their body. Walking side by side is less intrusive and intimate than sitting across from your teen, making eye contact, asking them what’s wrong, and waiting for an answer. Taking a walk with your teen gives them the opportunity to open up on their terms and sends the message they are not alone; they have someone who is walking alongside them.
2. Verbally say, “You are not alone, I am here if you need to talk.”
At times, teens want to discuss their thoughts and feelings with you however, they don’t know where to start nor how to communicate the cluster of emotions and thoughts. They crave independence wanting to figure things out on their own, however, still want to be able to go to a parent when they want to. Verbally saying to your teen that they are not alone lets your teen know that you see them in their struggle however, you are giving them space to come to you. Also, you are validating their experience by subtly letting them know you remember how tough it was to be an adolescent.
3. Write them a small note
Your teen might not acknowledge your small note of encouragement but believe me, a couple of positive words go a long way. When you are thinking of your teen at work, send them a short text message saying how special they are to you. Or, you can write them a small note and put it in their lunch box reminding them of how proud you are of them. Lastly, you can put a sticky note on their bathroom mirror letting them know the beautiful things you see in them. A small note will remind your teen that you are thinking of them, and they are not alone.
Clinical Psychologist Madeline Levine said it best, “Make sure your teen knows that if given a choice of all the children in the world, he or she is the one you would choose.”
Getting help for your lonely teen:
Sometimes teenage loneliness can become problematic or teens might be experiencing more symptoms than warranted. At Ashley Hudson Therapy, I help teens and young adults navigate through depression, anxiety, grief/loss, and life transitions in a safe and therapeutic space. If you are in California and ready to start feeling better, schedule a complimentary consultation with me today.
In addition, Ashley Hudson is the founder of Illuminate Your Connection LLC, a parent coaching service that has online courses and products to help parents of teenagers reconnect with their teenager and illuminate the relationship they once had.