Last week as I was doing some research I came across a recent study sponsored by Cigna, the global insurer and health service company, that really caught my attention. The study of 20,000 Americans ages 18 and older showed those 18 -23 had the highest loneliness score and this is alarming. Other studies in the US and abroad have also found similar results. These studies indicate that loneliness has a significant impact on mental health and wellbeing in general. Cigna CEO David Cordani says, “it’s clear addressing loneliness will solve other problems”.
Cordani’s statement is validated by a study in 2016 by Wong, Yeung and Lee that found children and adolescence experiencing loneliness are at greater risk for anxiety, depression and suicide. Loneliness appears to be an underlying cause for numerous chronic mental health issues. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs the need for social connection follows the need for food, shelter and safety. It is clear that to thrive children and teens need to make meaningful connections with others.
Now that the issue of rampant loneliness among many older adolescents has been verified, what can parents do to help their children and teens feel better connected and less lonely. Here are six strategies that you can try. Not all of these may be appropriate for your family, just pick what you think would work best.
- Encourage your children and teens to spend more time with peer in a relaxed, noncompetitive situation. From my observation children and teens today do not spend as much time connecting in person as children and teens once did.
- Model the importance of having close personal friends. Share with them how much you enjoy spending time with your friends and talk about how you spend time together.
- Make your home a kid friendly hangout and encourage your children and teens to have friends over. Yes, sometimes you just want quiet time but supporting your children in developing connections will really pay off in the long run.
- Be available to LISTEN to your children and teens. Show empathy and understanding when they talk with you rather than trying to fix something or giving advice. This helps them know without a doubt you are there when they want to connect. Contrary to what many parents believe, most teens really do want to connect with their parents. Here’s one of our favorites https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw
- Limit the amount of time your children and teens spend on social media. Connecting online and getting a lot of likes does not take the place of learning how to have and be a friend.
- One evening a week have a media blackout of 2 to 3 hours. That means parents also. Always have dinner together on the blackout night and take turns having each family member plan something to do as a family after dinner. It can be as simple as taking a walk or playing a game. Get creative and have a lot of fun.
I would love to hear from you about things you have done to help your children and teens make connections and how any of the suggested strategies worked in your family. Send me your strategies and I will do a follow up blog to share your ideas with others. Parenting isn’t a one or two-person job so let’s support one another. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Can’t wait to hear from you.