It’s generally older people who are associated with loneliness; however, children and young people can sometimes feel lonely and isolated.
Often this feeling of loneliness is temporary and will soon pass – perhaps they have recently moved to a new school and have yet to make new friends – but many young people feel unhappy and lonely for much of the time.
Whether or not a young person feels lonely depends on lots of things, including how much time they spend on their own (and whether they enjoy it), their friendships and even where they live. Often, the sense of isolation comes from the feeling that no-one understands them.
The NSPCC reports that thousands of young people are feeling isolated and struggling with the pressures of growing up in today’s world. These persistent feelings can have a detrimental and long-term effect on their mental health and emotional well-being.
Why do young people feel lonely?
Everyone is different, but some things that might trigger feelings of loneliness or isolation in a young person are:
Remember, loneliness is a feeling. Young people can feel lonely even though they have busy lives and lots of friends.
Young people spend a lot of time on social media, which can make it seem that everyone else is more popular and better looking and is having a great time all the time. While this isn’t true, it’s difficult to be bombarded with photographs of everyone else partying when they are at home and missing out on the fun.
If you suspect your child’s feelings of isolation stem from the time they spend on social media, persuade them to come offline for a few hours and do something together in the real world that you both enjoy.
How you can help
Encourage your child to talk to you about why they are feeling the way they do and whether there is anything you can do to help. For example, if they are missing out on social activities due to the lack of public transport and/or a car, perhaps you could help them arrange lifts. If they are missing their old friends, could you arrange a weekend visit?
If they are being bullied, speak to their school.
If a young person tells you they are being abused, you must report it. Ring the police on 101 or contact your council’s Local Safeguarding Team. In an emergency, always ring 999.
Seeking professional support
Sometimes, the feelings of isolation go much deeper and a young person might start self-harming or expressing suicidal thoughts.
In such situations, they may need professional support. Your GP can arrange for an assessment and your child will be referred to specialist mental health services, e.g. counselling.
Young Minds has a survival guide for parents who are worried about their child. There is also a parents’ helpline. Tel: 0808 802 5544
MIND has compiled an A-Z of mental health.
C.A.L.L. is a confidential helpline for mental health issues. Call: 0800 132 737
Childline supports children and young people. Call: 0800 1111
Papyrus provides confidential help and advice to young people who are feeling suicidal and anyone who is worried about a young person. Call: 0800 068 41 41