Truth be told, I’m a pretty stubborn guy. Just ask anyone in my family. It’s a feature which serves me well at times, but more often than not is to my detriment. The main area I tend to be stubborn is being honest about my shortcomings. Often when confronted with areas I don’t measure up, I default more to defensiveness than acceptance and this leads to more friction.
Why am I telling you this, you might wonder? Well, I wish to be as honest as I can on this post as a way to forge some crucial conversations around our teenagers.
The truth is: I have been lonely lately.
And, I think it has been that way since this pandemic hit. Now, don’t get me wrong – I have amazing relationships in my life that are there for me at the drop of a hat. I lack nothing in relationships. But, that is what makes this so weird to reckon with.
During the early days of the pandemic, we stayed home and hunkered down. I didn’t see anyone (physically) outside of my family for a very extended period of time. I associated physical connection with disease and spread. While it was necessary and needed, it was also traumatic and life-altering.
There was a lot of fear in those early days of the pandemic. When fear persists, we withdraw and keep tight circles as means of preservation. And, this is quite natural…over short periods of time.
But the long, drawn out nature of this pandemic has turned what was supposed to be temporary to a full scale upheaval of our habits and impulses.
And when we change the very nature of our relationships over a long enough period, they become “the new normal” that everyone likes to refer to.
Our interactions have become shorter. We leave the house less. Fewer details are shared in conversations. We say less. When people call, we hit “decline” even though we know it would be good to talk.
I am lonely. Likely you are too.
And the teenagers in our world almost certainly are.
A recent study found 61% of young adults (including older adolescents) reported feeling “serious loneliness” in the past month while only 27% of adults 55-65 reported this form of loneliness.
The supposed “most connected generation” is in-turn the most lonely and disconnected of all. (Read our recent post on gen z and loneliness.)
I guess what I am saying is if you or I are feeling lonely, that burden likely falls much heavier on the shoulders of the younger and more vulnerable of our population.
We see it in our support groups every week here at Teen Life. Since schools have reopened, our teens are quick to talk, lean in, and share. We take for granted that today’s teenagers actually have someone to talk to about meaningful things! I’ve been shocked how quickly and to what degree teens will share vulnerable and honest information about their lives.
Teens are lonely. So are we.
So, what do we do?
A recent New York Times article goes into great detail on this “Loneliness Epidemic” happening within one of the largest cities on the planet – New York City. Towards the end of the article, the authors share some ideas on how to combat this epidemic, but one really stood out to me.
Ask for help.
But, I don’t mean it the way it probably sounds.
That is, ask for help for….something. Anything.
For a teenager, maybe the ask for help with:
- A problem to solve
- Relationship issues
- Learning something new
- A challenge
When teens hear “ask for help” it’s often interpreted as “cry out for help” – which seems overwhelming. But when we just ask for help, we are communicating a need for connection, and giving someone else an opportunity to step in and get the good feeling of helping someone.
Everyone wins, and everyone’s a little less lonely.
An epidemic like loneliness can only be defeated by pulling together for the sake of the most vulnerable. The teens in our lives need us more than ever, and if we can give them better tools (like teaching them how to ask for help), we will see a generation that finds hope in healthier relationships and deeper connections.