Loneliness has been blamed on the social isolation brought on by the plethora of technology and reliance on social media for communication rather than face-to-face interactions, however two new studies find that feelings of loneliness actually decline in teenagers who connect via online social networks. While the objective size of a teenager’s group of trusted friends in whom they can confide has decreased, they are finding satisfaction in their ability with those they care about through social media and texting. Therefore, they are not feeling the pinch of loneliness that their parents felt at their age. The studies were conducted by David Clark and associates through the University of Queensland and Griffith University and published Nov. 24, 2014 in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
The scientists examined loneliness in high school and college students over the last few decades reporting higher degrees of loneliness in men than women do. Caucasians were less likely to experience feelings of solitude than other races. They concluded that computer technology, cell phones for texting and social media has shifted societal dynamics to increased self-sufficiency, decreasing the demand for traditional family and in-person social networks. They measured loneliness in “subjective isolation” or the degree to which a teenager reports feelings of isolation and a desire for more friends; and in the size of social networks of close friends and family members. Their findings indicate that social networks have shrunk across all populations but contrary to expectations that fewer friends would mean greater loneliness, teenagers seem to be OK with deeper connections with fewer people so that loneliness has actually declined as well.
Further study results indicate that modern teenagers are less sensitive to the feelings of others and do not join as many afterschool clubs as past generations of adolescents. Nonetheless, there is not a corresponding rise in feelings of being left out as youth have become increasingly independent, assertive and self-confident and do not feel the need for a large group of friends. The researchers theorize that teenagers have become more extroverted and less dependent on their families, looking to outside social networks to learn the specialized skills they need to make their way in the modern world. The new paradigm of easy online communication at the fingertips means teenagers have shifted their thinking as to the type of connections can meet the human need for belonging.
With social media within easy reach everywhere they go, friends are never more than a few taps away. The ease of connecting with friends at a moment’s notice through the many technology options available today, whether the teenager can go out to meet them or call at any given time, alleviates the feelings of loneliness of sitting at home waiting for an opportunity for a physical interaction. The perception that they always have access to people they trust and can confide in no matter what is going on plays a big part in the decline of loneliness, as high school and college students navigate the social maze of modern adolescence.
by Tamara Christine Van Hooser
Image Courtesy of Garry Knight – Flickr License