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10/11/15blog post

could social media be causing lonliness?

Michele’s parents were concerned about their daughter’s possible addiction to Facebook. However, after meeting with this teen, it was clear that the parents had mistaken a symptom with an underlying problem.

Michele’s use of social media was not the problem; her use of social media to solve a much larger issue was the problem.

Michele was incredibly lonely, a condition that affects almost one in five teenagers.

In a way, this makes no sense. Social media gives us a myriad of opportunities to communicate and connect with other people.

The technology that connects us can also be used to withdraw from dealing with the real world. It’s easy to waste endless hours on meaningless chat or posting pointless information on Facebook. These activities develop into habits that easily remove us from nurturing interests and relationships that give meaning to our lives.

Michele didn’t use social media to form friendships, but rather to avoid them. It’s easy on such sites to say whatever you want without considering the consequences, or to pretend you’re someone you’re not.

Forming and maintaining real relationships takes a lot more work than living in a digital existence.

Michele’s loneliness was exacerbated by social media, as she only felt more distant and disengaged the more time she spent on her digital interactions.

The antidote for loneliness is having close relationships with friends and family. It’s about feeling safe in being your true self around another person, knowing that their acceptance and caring will provide support and affirmation.

These types of relationships require mutual communication and caring. This means feeling comfortable in taking the risk of sharing intimate feelings, fears and dreams.

I am often asked by parents for advice on how to help their kids survive the teenage years. The answer is simple. Help your teens develop emotionally intimate relationships with peers and adults. There is nothing more important that you can do to prepare your teen to develop into a happy and responsible person.

All of us occasionally feel lonely. However, if your teen is one of the almost 20% of kids who chronically feel desolate and isolated, consider the following.

  • Keep listening and talking. Your kids are not likely to tell you when they are lonely, but their behaviors will reflect isolation and disengagement. Don’t confront your child directly. Instead, stay involved in their lives, and keep them engaged in yours. Don’t get discouraged by their attitude or bad behavior.
  • Consider a technology-free zone. Select certain times of the day (perhaps at mealtimes or after 9 pm at night) when you restrict screen for kids, including teenagers. Some kids need that level of protection from themselves.

Next Week: Survival Guide for Tough Times