Mobile Devices May Actually Help Teenagers Combat Loneliness
Feeling like an outsider or that they don’t fit in or have meaningful connections can make teenagers feel depressed and isolated. These days, many kids are constantly connected to their smart phones and other devices, but rather than being more isolated, they are reporting that they feel less lonely than young people of past generations.
A study conducted by the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin revealed that there has been a decline in teenage levels of loneliness from 1978 to 2009. It could be that mobile devices offer more frequent opportunities to connect with friends, or a combination of multiple factors. Whatever the case, it appears that young people are feeling less lonely as a result of their mobile devices. Here is how these devices may help teens (and possibly adults) alleviate loneliness.
Mobile Devices and Social Media Make Teens Feel Connected
With greater access to people from all over the world, it makes sense that mobile devices and their social media capabilities make people (including teens) feel more connected with one another. The Greater Good Science Center of the University of California at Berkeley recently published an article titled, “Does Technology Cut Us Off From Other People,” by Lauren Klein. The article cites a survey in which people were asked questions about their smart phone usage. “Across the board, heavy smartphone use was positively associated with all four measures of social capital. So it seems that all those people who are glued to their phones are not necessarily more socially isolated.” It goes on to examine the effects of online social networks on seniors. “Studies have shown that older adults—those 65 years and up—who use social networking sites benefit from better health, reduce their chances of cognitive decline, and prevent premature death. But only four percent of Facebook users in the United States are over 65, which suggests that older adults may be missing valuable opportunities to strengthen their social ties through social media.” This logic could also apply to teens, who now have greater access to people beyond their schools, which may make kids who aren’t into sports or other popular activities, feel like they are less alone.
Technology May Also Limit Face-to-Face Interaction
While the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin study indicated that teens may feel less lonely then their parents, it also mentioned that this generation of teens is less likely to interact with its peers in person, but this may not be a bad thing. A CNN article cites the findings of the study: “It finds teenagers today are …less likely to join clubs and make fewer close friends than prior generations, but that doesn’t leave them feeling left out.Young people today, the study says, are more independent. They have less need for feeling attached to a large group of friends.” Event though your child may seem like they are missing out by being constantly connected to their mobile devices, they don’t appear to feel marginalized by their peers.
Know the Signs
Just because teens today report feeling more connected despite their apparent technological isolation doesn’t mean that they never feel lonely. Like adults, teens are susceptible to feelings of loneliness, and when they occur, it can make your child feel sad or even depressed. Look for signs of loneliness and other contributing factors. The Gulf Bend Center in Texas outlines the following: “Several factors contribute to feelings of loneliness in young children. Some that occur outside of the school setting are conflict within the home; moving to a new school or neighborhood; losing a friend; losing an object, possession, or pet; experiencing the divorce of parents; or experiencing the death of a pet or significant person. Equally important are factors that occur within the child’s school setting, such as being rejected by peers; lacking social skills and knowledge of how to make friends; or possessing personal characteristics (e.g., shyness, anxiety, and low self-esteem) that contribute to difficulties in making friends.”
If your child is overly connected to their mobile device, you may consider encouraging them to disconnect for a while, but don’t assume that they are feeling lonely. Instead, watch for changes in behavior, and be sure to keep the lines of communication open. By doing so, you can help your teen build a strong network and help them feel connected.