Helping Lonely Teens
First, determine whether your teen is temporarily lonely or suffering from prolonged isolation.
If the problem is short-term, Jeff Rothweiler, a clinical psychologist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, suggests these phrases for parents:
- This, too, shall pass.
- Log off. Get face-to-face.
- Look up and say “hi” to people.
- It always gets better. You might have to work on it, but it can definitely get better.
If your teen is suffering from prolonged loneliness, speak up, particularly if you notice changes in behavior. Primack recommends these questions:
- Would you say that you’re sad?
- Have you lost interest in things?
- Have you had problems with sleeping or eating?
- Are these feelings so bad that you’re thinking about hurting yourself?
- If your teen has self-harming thoughts, seek counseling and make a pact
with them, says Dr. Brian Primack, a researcher and professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh.
- Say: If you ever start feeling that way again, you come and tell me right away.
HOW ELSE TO HELP
• “Listen, empathize, and nod,” says Katie Reeves, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner for the Children’s Health Council in Palo Alto, California. “Validate your teen’s feelings, and don’t try to fix the problem until you really understand what’s going on.”
• “Suggest that your teen broaden their social network. They can pick one or two kids from class that they want to know better and start by saying hello,” recommends Rothweiler. “Later, try a brief conversation. Then make an invitation. An activity in a new setting—outside of school—can also expand a teen’s social circle.”
• Seek counseling or mentoring, if needed.
• “Don’t let teens completely isolate,” warns Dr. Yolanda Evans, an adolescent medicine doctor at Seattle Children’s Hospital and author of Teenology 101, the hospital’s blog for parents of teens. “Keep them enrolled in school and engaged in family, church, and community activities.”