We might think that people are born with social skills, but that’s not the case. We actually learn how to socialize as we grow. And like every other learned behavior, some of us become really good at socializing and others do not, just like some of us become really good mathematicians and some of us don’t.
There are, of course, some people who just prefer to be alone more than hanging in social settings all of the time. In general, however, humans are social creatures who are not meant to be isolated. After all, our emotional and physical well-being actually depend on our degree of socialization. You might say that lonely teens who don’t get help overcoming their loneliness often become lonely adults. Regardless, loneliness should be a passing phase. Occasionally though, teens can get stuck in a loneliness rut that seems to last forever.
The truth is that loneliness is a rather common problem in our society, even among teenagers. Most of us, however, are not willing to admit that we’re lonely. That’s because feeling lonely has the tendency to make us feel damaged or in someway different than others. And, because we feel that way about ourselves, we believe others will also think of us that way, should we dare to admit our loneliness. Of course, that’s not necessarily the case. In general, people pay much less attention to us than we might think. So, maybe we should focus more on just being ourselves and worry less about what others think of us. After all, God made each and every one of us and he doesn’t make mistakes.
What’s so significant about teen loneliness?
As teens, young people are making the life changing transition from childhood to adulthood. This isn’t always a linear process. in other words, teens often flip back and forth between childhood and adulthood throughout adolescence.
During their transition from childhood to adulthood, it is not unusual for teenagers to compare themselves with their peers and the adults around them. This process of comparison is a major determining factor in a teenager’s level of self-esteem and their consideration of just how they fit into the world around them. It is also a time of loneliness for many teens because even they know they’re alive, they don’t always feel part of the rest of humanity. Teens sometimes describe themselves during this stage in their development as “see through kids”; a feeling of being almost invisible and alone while actually surrounded by others.
Feelings of alienation or loneliness can be quite difficult for teens. Some people believe the increasing incidents of school shootings demonstrates the level of anger and frustration that can result from severe, prolonged feelings of alienation during adolescence. Case Western Reserve Psychologist Ray Baumeister puts it this way, “social rejection seems to undermine self-regulation, making negative behaviors more likely.”
Sometimes loneliness is a result of things that happen to us. For example, we might feel a period of loneliness when we move to a new town and have to make new friends. Other times, we can feel lonely if we’ve been bullied or teased. Also, losing a friend or relative can cause us to feel lonely. Some of the other causes of teen loneliness include the separation or divorce of parents, transitioning from middle school to high school or high school to college, or broken hearts or failed relationships.
Is there a way out of loneliness?
Well, the short answer is Yes! There actually is hope for lonely teens in this world who would like to become more social and less alone. Even if we’re the kind of person who might say, “I’m kind of lonely, but I’m too shy to get to know people and I’ve decided that I’m just going to have to deal with being alone and feeling like I’m on the outside looking in for the rest of my life”, it doesn’t mean we have to be that way for all our life. Imagine how nice it would be if we could learn how to be more confident and safe in our relationships with other people. The truth is that everyone can become more social and there’s no need to freak out or totally change who we are inside to do so. All we have to do is be willing to learn some new skills and look at things a little differently than we have before.
We can start on our path toward better social relationships by examining the way we think about ourselves. For instance, do we see ourselves as boring, unlikeable, or weird and, therefore, unlikeable by other more cool people? Well, if we’re accurate in our perception of ourselves, perhaps we should make an effort to be less boring, less weird, and try to be more likable. On the other hand, maybe we’re being a little too harsh in our evaluation of ourselves. After all, nobody is perfect. Maybe we just try to should lighten-up on ourselves.
Are we one of those people who let others define how we see ourselves based on what they think about us, rather than seeing ourselves as the person we know ourselves to be? If we are that type of person, then perhaps we should simply accept the truth that our opinion is just as important as anyone else’s opinion, even when it comes down to defining who we are. Everyone has a role to play and each of our roles is as important as anyone else’s role. Interestingly, researchers have found that young people who believe in God and practice their faith are less likely to feel alone. Religious youth are less likely to feel alone because they understand there is an actual reason for their place on earth and they see themselves as an integral part of the ultimate plan God has for humanity. With Christ in their hearts, Christian kids seem to understand that they are never truly alone.
Some other things that can help us change the way we feel about ourselves is to find someone to talk openly with who won’t judge us or try to make us become someone we’re not. Maybe we could join a sport or club or find a group of peers who share our interests. The important thing is to avoid being alone if we can at all help it. We must not isolate ourselves. We need to get out and do something positive, even if we have to drag ourselves by the arm out the door. (That’s weird, but I think you get my drift.)
Also, one of the best ways of making friends is to be a friend first. Be willing to listen to others and when appropriate, offer to help others. Doing so often helps us to forget about our own worries. That reminds me, worry is just wasted energy. When was the last time you heard about how someone solved their problem by worrying about it?
Like any other problem, if we can’t seem to overcome it ourselves, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes a trained counselor who understands the issues involved in adolescence can help. Remember, with a few exceptions which your counselor will let you know about up front, counseling sessions are always confidential.
One final word of caution though – be very cautious about looking for help over the internet. Make sure you actually know who your counselor really is and never give out your personal information online in a chat room or to someone whom you aren’t absolutely sure about.