Teenagers on loneliness: ‘We want to talk to our parents. We need their guidance’
Reports claim and parents worry that teens are suffering an epidemic of loneliness caused by social media. What is really going on?
To the average concerned adult, the epidemic of teenage loneliness currently sweeping the land is exemplified by a lone teen, probably dressed in black, school marks plummeting, lifeless eyes glued to Snapchat or some other social media site, mind unhinged by online pornography, ambitions nil.
The bit about Snapchat might be true. The rest, though, are questionable stereotypes, extrapolated into facts. First, the epidemic, widely reported in the media over recent months. In January, MPs launched the loneliness commission, which had initially been set up by Jo Cox, the MP who was murdered in June 2016. Soon after, the counselling service Relate released figures suggesting that todays teenagers are the loneliest generation yet a finding that a recent report by Londons Kings College seems to support.
But a closer look at the studies immediately reveals inconsistencies. The Jo Cox commission applies across all age groups, and its findings are still a long way off. Meanwhile, the Relate survey of teenagers covered 16- to 24-year-olds ie, only three years of teendom. Kingss poll shows that 62% of the 1,000 teenagers questioned said they sometimes feel lonely; to which one obvious response is: who doesnt? Childline says it received 3,000 calls from children asking for counselling between April 2016 and January 2017, but those figures look confusing when compared to a similar study by the same organisation in 2015/16, which revealed that 19,481 contacts were made by young people who were struggling with thoughts of ending their own lives more than double the number in the previous five years.
More confusing still are findings by the Mental Health Foundation it identifies 18- to 35-year-olds, not teenagers, as the age group most likely to struggle with loneliness. Other, more robust studies do indeed indicate very strongly that teenagers are struggling (for instance, between 2009 and 2016, the number of children and young people coming to A&E with psychiatric conditions more than doubled; in the past four years, hospital admissions for teenagers with eating disorders almost doubled, too). But is loneliness the root cause?
The problem begins with a mismatch between adult perception and teenage reality. Seventeen-year-old Maelo Manning, who started her politics blog, Libdemchild, when she was 10, thinks it has something to do with an air of hatred of teenagers. Even millennials judge us to be complacent layabouts who dont work hard. Nineteen-year-old Toni McMillan, who has set up her own online campaign fighting for equal work opportunities for teenagers, says some employers think young people are a nuisance or a liability. Most of us just want a chance to prove what we can do. Not having a job can be quite a lonely experience. The constant rejection makes you wonder if youll ever be given the opportunity.
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