What is loneliness?
Generally, loneliness is defined as a state of aching isolation in which a person becomes aware of a painful feeling of apartness from others or has an emotional experience of being distanced or cut off from others. Loneliness is a normal human emotion which everyone experiences from time to time, one in four adults feel lonely at least every few weeks.
Young people, often experience short-term loneliness as part of their everyday lives. Many young people become particularly aware of these feelings during the holiday season or times of severe stress such as when they have exams or get sick.
Being alone and loneliness are quite different in that loneliness involves an element of sadness, whilst solitude can be productive and very pleasant. In fact, it is necessary for people to be alone sometimes. For example, an artist needs to be on his own in order to complete an art piece or a student who has an upcoming exam may need some time alone to study. However, a person can feel lonely even while being with others when they do not experience a sense of “fitting” or belonging in with the others.
Why do young people experience loneliness?
When young people feel lonely, some of their important needs are not being met, unfortunately, there is no single known cause of loneliness as this emotion is both complex and unique and complex to each person. Young people are predisposed to these feelings which tend to peak during adolescence as they are going through various mental, physical and social changes that can cause stress.
Some of the known reasons why a young person may feel lonely include:
- difficulty making friends
- conflict in interpersonal relationships
- work or study issues
- experience of bullying or abuse
- poor communication skills
- financial difficulties
- illness or disability
- moving elsewhere and leaving behind familiar places and people
- issues with sexuality
- losing something really precious or a loved one
About your child’s occasional feelings of loneliness, it is OK not to feel too concerned. These feelings may actually develop self-reliance and creativity in a young person, in reasonable doses, and it has been shown that as they age young people generally develop a more positive attitude towards solitude.
For parents and carers, there are different ways to provide support to a young person experiencing loneliness. Teach your child that their emotion is a cue – if they are starting to feel lonely, then it’s time for them to get active and engaged with others. You as a parent may assist by undertaking some activities with them such as:
- visiting a local beach or the park
- family activities
- window shopping
- starting a collection of things they are interested in
- gardening (harvesting your own veggies may be very rewarding)
- taking photographs of places, animals, plants and other interesting things (they can share this online with friends and other and is a good way to catch up with friends)
- inviting friends for a sleepover (help your child plan the evening meal or the games they will like to play)