As a high school student, to say my schedule was packed would have been an understatement. My time at school was spent either in class, at club meetings, or at sports practice. Outside of school, I had youth group and volunteer work on top of my social life with my friends and family. However, amid these day-to-day happenings, there were times in which I felt the plague of loneliness. To the detriment of myself, I hid this feeling behind a façade of normalcy. I was smiling and having fun on the outside, but internally a deep ache of loneliness burned.
Perhaps you or your teens have had that experience of being in a crowded room of people only to feel lonelier than if you were by yourself. For years, musicians have written songs about loneliness, and artists across generations have depicted loneliness in their paintings. Loneliness is nothing new. The great irony is that as we have become increasingly “connected” on social media, video calling, and messaging, we simultaneously feel increasingly lonely.
Statistics suggest that more than 70% of young people experience recurring loneliness (Cigna’s 2020 Loneliness Survey). Loneliness is a multi-dimensional problem. There is isolation, relational disconnection, social discomfort, prolonged bouts of solitude, feelings of inadequacy or misunderstanding, pessimism, and so much more that can be attributed to loneliness.
Loneliness happens. It is real. It is painful. But it is not a helpless condition. There are actions you can help your teens take with these feelings. Here are some ways to walk your teens through loneliness:
Limit Screen Time
According to a recent study published by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, studies have concluded that cutting down screen time and the use of social media has led to significant reductions in loneliness, depression, and anxiety (Guildford Press Periodicals). Encourage your teens to put good, healthy parameters on for themselves. It could be as simple as not using their phone before going to bed and first thing in the morning. When they are spending time with others, they should put the phone away!
Cultivate Authentic Connections
Help them recognize that they should be intentional about relationships and friendships. It takes work, but the payoff will be worth it in terms of counteracting their loneliness. They should make plans, call friends, facetime, or meet for coffee. They should strive not to be superficial. Most of all, please challenge them to share their heart and not to be afraid of vulnerability. Looking someone in the eye takes courage but brings a connection that cannot be found elsewhere.
In trying moments, it’s essential to practice self-care. Blaming themselves when they feel lonely does not help. They should limit negative self-talk and take breaks. When they nourish themselves in little ways, it helps provide a strong foundation of resilience in the inevitable moments. Encourage them to do something kind for themselves like taking a long walk, making a cup of tea, working out, reading a book, creating a gratitude journal or a vision board, etc.
Invite your teens to open the Bible. Here are great Scriptures for them to start with:
“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare, and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13
“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world- our faith.” 1 John 5:4
“Be strong. Be brave. Be fearless. You are never alone.” Joshua 1:9
“Perhaps this is the moment for which you’ve been created.” Esther 4:14
“The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:14
“I will never leave you or forsake you.” -Joshua 1:5
IMPORTANT: Learn to Be OK with Being Alone
Philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Sometimes we fear the silence of existence; we dread boredom and instead choose aimless distraction, thinking we can run from the problems of our emotions into the false comforts of the mind.
The real secret of loneliness is that it is normal, as painful as it is. Why? We are made in the image the likeness of God. Therefore, no matter how close or connected we feel to someone, that person or group of people will always fall short of our expectations. This is because we desire the infinite, a desire that will ultimately be filled only in heaven. Thus, loneliness is often an invitation to draw close to God, who loves us deeply and is with us always. Jesus, as the center of all of our connections, can combat loneliness.
Take comfort and know that many Saints before us have walked similar roads and have triumphed by the grace of God. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton suffered from a constant feeling of loneliness and melancholy, so profound that she thought several times of suicide. After her conversion, the Eucharist and charity became her source of daily strength. In prayer, she recognized that Jesus is always with her, a constant companion.
Just remember, always remind them that they can do this. They are not alone in feeling lonely. High school is hard. Life is hard. Always help them remember, they are loved and worth fighting for.