Adolescent Loneliness is Skyrocketing- is Tech the Culprit?
A new report published on the 20th of July in the Journal of Adolescence has found that globally adolescent loneliness has increased dramatically between 2012 and 2018 and that this is due to the proliferation of smartphones during this time. The research was taken from a study of over 1 million 15-16 years old students and was not impacted by the pandemic (as it ended in 2018) which would be expected to have a great impact on teen wellbeing.
What does the study say?
Previously research had documented increases in adolescent loneliness and depression in the UK, US and Canada along at the same time but the factors causing the shift were unclear. This study however has found that adolescent loneliness increased in 36 out of 37 countries studied during this timeframe. This increase found that nearly twice as many adolescents had high levels of loneliness in 2018 than in 2012.
Two factors associated with strongly impacting loneliness were smartphone use which resulted in higher loneliness whilst higher unemployment rates resulted in lower loneliness, clearly highlighting that it is screens, and access to them, which is the root cause of this increase in depression in the last 10 years.
This study is particularly striking as the correlation between the rise of smartphone use and adolescent loneliness does not merely follow an increase in depression previously. Depression and loneliness rates had been stable or decreasing in the years up to 2012, marking a sudden shift in this data, along with the proliferation of smartphone use. An earlier study in 2012 had also been identified as the year that smartphone ownership passed 50% in the US meaning that it was a significant time not only for mental health statistics but also technologically.
What does that mean for your teens?
We have been writing about the impact of excess screen exposure on adolescents for many years. This generation (Gen Z) are the first to be raised in a world surrounded by technology, they are the first to never experience childhood without it, and thus we are having to learn with them the impacts that it can have. As smartphone addiction increase in the last 10 years, adolescents have spent less time interacting in person and more time on social media. Unfortunately the refusal of some teens to use social media does not actually benefit them as if their friends still use social media they will be less available for in-person interaction and even when they are face to face those phones can dampen enjoyment through ‘phubbing‘.
Therefore, we recommend encouraging your teens to meet up in person. If you have the means, you could encourage them to host, or simply facilitate that contact in any way you can (such as by driving them if they are able to drive themselves). You can also encourage your teens to practice phone-free interactions both at home and with their friends in order to get the most out of their time with friends, and hopefully reduce loneliness in the long-term.