Research from charity the Co-op Foundation suggests that 1.9 million young people feel ‘chronically lonely’.
The One Small Step report surveyed 2,000 people aged 10 to 25, with around one in seven saying they feel lonely often or always, a rise of nearly 400,000 from a year ago.
Of those, 85% said loneliness negatively impacted their mental wellbeing, but on a more positive note, 89% of young people who have felt lonely, have taken action to combat the issue.
Our One Small Step report found that 85% of chronically #Lonely young people say it negatively impacts their #MentalWellbeing
And three quarters of all young people say loneliness makes them feel more anxious or worried about things [2/3] #LonelyNotAlone
— Co-op Foundation (@Coop_Foundation) September 30, 2021
And there are lot of steps parents can take too – both practically and emotionally – to help support a child who may be lonely. Experts offer their five top tips…
1. Extracurricular activities
“It may seem obvious, but one of the best ways to help your child cope with, and eventually overcome, loneliness is by encouraging them to take part in after school clubs and extracurricular activities,” says Dr Sharryn Gardner, NHS paediatrician and clinical adviser for children’s health app Juno.
“Sport, in particular, is a great option, as it can help more introverted children to be sociable, without being as energy-draining as more talking-intensive activities. It also helps them to get their exercise levels up in a fun, interactive way. It’s been proven that physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier, more relaxed and less anxious.”
2. Spend time with children individually
Loneliness isn’t always caused by children not having enough friends, says Noel Janis-Norton, director of Calmer Parenting. “Increasingly, parents are busy, preoccupied, stressed. As a result, many parent-child and parent-teen interactions are full of reminders, lectures, criticisms, and sighs of exasperation” – which can lead to children feeling isolated or ignored.
She suggests scheduled daily ‘Special Time’, which consists of “one parent and one child doing an activity together that they both enjoy – and that’s not in front of a screen, doesn’t cost money or involve a food treat. Even 10 minutes a day of a parent’s undivided, positive attention is hugely beneficial to the child’s emotional wellbeing.”
3. Limit screen time
“Social media, despite the implication it’s intended for social purposes, can actually make children feel more lonely,” says Bill Stirling, creator of Tech-Break. “Regularly taking time away from screens is crucial to their mental wellbeing.”
Parents need to set a good example, so he suggests “picking two evenings a week for all family members to go tech-free, weeknights or weekends, and use that time to try out a new hobby together as a family.”
4. Encourage young people to talk about their feelings
It may be daunting for children to admit they’re lonely or find the words to talk about how they feel.
Dr Gardner says: “Initially, they might feel shame or embarrassment in doing so and, depending on their age, they may not realise what they’re feeling is loneliness. But encouraging them to be open about how they feel and reassuring them that it’s okay to feel this way, takes some of the pressure off them. Sharing how you feel is half the battle when it comes to these types of topics.”
5. Don’t forget about diet and sleep
We often think of children as having boundless energy, but socialising “can actually be energy-draining for some children, especially those who are more introverted”, says Dr Gardner, which is why it’s essential to ensure kids have a balanced diet and adequate sleep.
To encourage better sleep, she suggests: “Turn off all tech at least an hour before bedtime. Make the hour before bedtime about reading, talking about their day, or even listening to a storybook or some relaxing music.”
For any energy-boosting diet, she says: “Avoid carb-heavy or stodgy foods for breakfast and their lunch. Make sure it’s balanced with a good amount of protein and a good portion of both fruits and vegetables, to help them get the nutrients they need. Being well-hydrated also really helps us to feel our best and ready to engage.”