Fighting Teen Loneliness and Encouraging Positive Friendships

Your teenager may have over 500 followers on Instagram, but does he or she have a couple of close friends?  A report released in July 2021 by the Journal of Adolescence stated that feelings of loneliness among teenagers rose sharply between 2012 and 2018 around the world, with higher increases among girls. Before 2012, the levels of adolescent loneliness (which is a predictor of depression and mental health issues) remained relatively flat. The study ended before the pandemic, which is likely to have increased these feelings.

The researchers attributed the large increase in loneliness to smartphone use, which began rapidly increasing in 2012. Between 2010 and 2020, teens spent less time interacting in person and more time using digital media, which does not offer as much emotional closeness as in-person interaction and has increased cyberbullying. The study noted that even if a teen didn’t use digital media, their friends who do use it would still be less available for in-person interaction.

As parents, we rightfully worry about loneliness, so it’s important that we let our kids know how important in-person interaction is. Talk to them about the study above and how much you value your time with people. Role model spending time face-to-face with people rather than scrolling on your phone. Encourage your teen to invite friends over to your home or to go out with their peers.

In addition to not wanting our teens to be lonely, we also worry about the influence that their friends can have on their behavior. We want our teens to have friendships that are positive influences and offer them support. Although the ultimate decision of who their friends are lies with your teen, there are still ways you can guide and influence their choices. It is important for parents to talk to their teens about what attributes make up a good friend. Explaining the qualities that a “true” friend possesses helps define how your child should act with their friends and what they should expect from others.

We suggest parents offer their teen these friendship tips:

Be Approachable. If you give off an ‘approachable vibe’, you may find that you’re striking up conversations with new people wherever you go. Saying hello to the new student or the child next to you in class can be the start of a beautiful friendship. Attitude and appearance send strong messages to peers, so remember that the way you present yourself may be turning potential friends away. Body language, such as smiling and making eye contact, can make a big difference in how you are perceived. Showing respect for other people’s opinions and talents also makes you approachable. Letting others know that you think they’re funny makes them feel good and shows them you’re interested in what they think. It also shows you have a good sense of humor, which is one of the top things teens look for in a person, whether it’s a best friend or a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Find the Right Match. Look for friends who like to do what you like to do. Having an interest in common with another person gives both of you something to talk about. It doesn’t matter if the interest is reading, soccer, or music – enjoying your hobby with others is fun and provides a sense of meaning and belonging. Joining clubs or sports that you love is a great way to connect with like-minded people. You want to find someone who has a lot in common with you, including your values.

Growing New Friendships. Once you’ve found someone you want to be friends with, help the friendship grow by taking it slow and being available. Experts say that friendships should develop gradually in order to last. The more time you are available to do things with your new friend, the greater likelihood the friendship will grow.

For Closeness, Go for a Close Schedule. It’s hard to stay close to a friend you never see. Find a friend who you run into a lot, either in class, church, clubs or sports. Or invite your friend over to your home a lot to spend time together face-to-face.

Beware the Popular Kids. Hanging out with the popular kids isn’t as cool as it looks. It’s very stressful to break into the crowd, and if you do, it’s stressful to stay there. Additionally, popular kids tend to be so interested in maintaining their status that they are not trustworthy, which doesn’t offer the meaningful relationships you want.

Be a Good Friend and Expect the Same. True friends do not stab you in the back, act like you’re stupid or boring, gossip about you, leave you out of social gatherings, lie to you, threaten you if you don’t do something their way, or try to change who you are. A true friend is honest, supportive, compassionate, loyal, trustworthy, interesting, accepting, willing to compromise and forgiving. You should act that way to your friends, and you should expect them to act the same to you.

What Parents Can Do

Help your child foster her friendships by including a friend occasionally in family activities, or inviting them over for family movie or game night. As a parent, you have a role in the success of your child’s friendships as well. Be kind to their friends when they are visiting, offering snacks or rides, and they will be more interested in spending time with your child again. Also, be sure your child understands that there’s no substitute for one-on-one time together, and that texting and emailing friends isn’t the same as spending time with their friends in person.

Expect drama. Adolescents can be moody and emotional, which can interfere with the best of friendships. Don’t assume that the friendship is doomed. Instead, this is an excellent time to help your child develop problem solving and conflict resolution skills. Help him or her to see the problem from the other child’s point of view or role play how he or she can develop a compromise.

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