"My youth has no friends..."
Is What I am Seeing Normal?
Everyone feels lonely from time to time. Loneliness comes in many forms. Without regular and positive contact with other people, some of us can feel lonely. Children’s first relationships are with their parents or caretakers, with whom an attachment and bond is formed and the child feels loved and protected. As children get older, changes in the family unit such as a death of a parent, chronic (mental or physical) illness of a parent, or conflict in the family, will shift the attention away from the child and they may begin to experience feelings of loneliness. For youth, changing schools, losing a friend, feeling rejected by peers at school, or loss of a close family member like a grandparent can also bring on feelings of loneliness. Remember, today’s society has changed to a more isolating world for youth in that there is less human contact and less free outdoor play; instead, the internet, social media and cell phones are part of the vast majority of families’ daily lives in North America.
Should I Be Worried?
If a youth feels lonely for a long time, it can bring with it a deep belief that everything is useless and a feeling of isolation - thinking they are separate or different from everyone else. While there are many things that contribute to loneliness, the hardest thing for a person to do is identify and face the things that contribute to their loneliness.
Some factors that may contribute to isolation and feelings of loneliness:
- Inadequate development of social skills
- Experience of being bullied at school or through the internet
- Personality traits such as shyness or aggressiveness
- Youth with visible disabilities, behavioral issues or learning differences
- Youth with mental illnesses such as social anxiety or depression
- Less face to face interaction with friends and more internet, video gaming and TV use
Youth who are isolated and lonely have less opportunity to socialize and practice social skills. Without practice, self esteem and confidence in social situations does not improve and then in turn youth feel different from their peers. As a result, lonely youth may be more at risk of using drugs and alcohol to help them cope with feelings of awkwardness and insecurity in social situations.
These are some of the feelings and thoughts youth may be having:
- I feel like I don’t fit in or I don’t belong.
- I feel like no one understands me
- I think there is something wrong with me.
- I get scared and sometimes don't like to try anything new. That includes meeting new people or doing new things.
- I feel like I am isolated because of my looks, sexuality, race, gender, religious beliefs, intellectual or physical ability.
- I feel isolated because I have moved to a new place and people speak a different language or have different customs or cultural expectations than me.
- I feel lonely and isolated because my family’s values and beliefs are very different than the values and beliefs of my friends.
- Lack of money or lack of affordable community programs mean I spend a lot of my time at home.
- Sometimes problems at home add to my feelings of loneliness.
- I feel really nervous around other people or when I have to talk to them. anxiety
- I stay home by myself all the time. I don't go out anywhere.
- I feel really down and unmotivated. depression
How Can I Help?
It can take time and energy to replace loneliness and isolation with a sense of belonging. Loneliness can be a big and overwhelming thing. Taking small steps can slowly help youth to feel better.
- Parents can teach their youth social skills by role modeling but most importantly is to create more opportunities to socialize with friends, neighborhoods children
- Pay attention to your youth’s interest and personality for a good fit regarding sports teams, community and church youth groups and activities.
- Provide less structured time and more free play time and socializing time when their younger
- Accept your children as they are whether they prefer one or two friends or prefer some solitude however encourage hobbies and interests as this may be a common interest with others
- Allow children and youth the opportunity to invite friends over in your home but also be available to go to theirs.
- Remind youth that manners are important and that rudeness will not earn them friends
- Teach empathy in your home by role-modeling it and volunteer as a family in your community
- Role model listening to each other respectfully
- Role model how to be a friend by making time for your own friends, inviting them over and treating them with respect and kindness.
Remember youth want to belong and not stand out so be understanding of their need to fit in and avoid being teased at school.