There is a common stereotype that loneliness mainly strikes older, isolated people – and of course it can, and does. But a recent study conducted by BBC Radio 4 in collaboration with Wellcome Collection found that young people can often feel loneliness more intensely and more frequently than any other age group.
UK Youth also highlighted this in their recent report, ‘A Place to Belong’ where they stated that youth loneliness is a ‘common experience’ that could affect all young people. And with 82% of youth workers agreeing that loneliness is an issue for the young people they work with, it is certainly a topic that needs to be investigated more.
So what does this say about young people in 2019? Why are more and more young people experiencing loneliness? Is it a by-product of social media? What role do youth centres have in supporting young people who are feeling lonely?
A few years ago, I was facilitating a youth work session focusing on friendships and social media and a young girl said to the group:
“I am never on my own but I always feel so lonely.”
This sentence struck a chord with me. She was telling us that even though she felt she was always connected to people on social media, she didn’t feel she had any true friends. In a society where young people rate themselves by how many followers they have on Instagram or how many likes they get on Facebook, how can we truly know the impact that this is having on a young person’s self-esteem and worth?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Loneliness is, ‘Sadness because one has no friends or company’ but how do we differentiate between online friends and true friendship. UK Youth’s report touched upon how youth workers were unsure of the role social media played on loneliness, as social media allows young people to reach out, to develop relationships and create communities. On the flip side, while young people reach out to find their place in society, they are more susceptible to radicalism and grooming. With this in mind, if the key to not feeling lonely lies in the emotional connections we establish and the depths of relationships we create, surely youth organisations have a huge role in fostering a sense of belonging and bringing communities together.
So, if we know there is a link between loneliness and wanting to belong, and there is also a link between loneliness and radicalisation, then surely our focus should be on raising awareness of youth loneliness and providing funding and resources for youth organisations to increase the relationship-based work they are experts in.
UK Youth offered the following delivery-led recommendations for youth organisations to better address youth loneliness:
- Development of training
- Development of activities and resources
- Ongoing support for a network of youth workers
- Development of an organisation diagnostic tool
- Development of an appropriate measurement framework and indicators
- Development of better links between youth organisations and other local services
If you would like to further explore the topic of youth loneliness, why not come along to the “Let’s talk about loneliness” conference and training on 8th of October 2019 at The King’s Centre in Oxford.
You can also join us in discussing loneliness and other issues that young people face at the next Children and Young People’s Forum networking event.
To read the full articles referenced above, click on the links below: