Rates of adolescent loneliness are on the rise, and it’s a cause for major concern among mental health experts. Loneliness, according to Stanford University researchers, is “the state of distress or discomfort that results when we perceive a gap between our desire for social connection and our actual experience of it.” Connection, on the other hand, “is when we feel known, seen, understood, valued, remembered, and cared for.” Tweens and teens’ need for connection is even more critical than at other ages. That’s because close relationships and a sense of belonging support neurological and social development and protect adolescent mental health. To help tweens and teens get more connected, try these five simple strategies:

1. Get more comfortable being alone.

Paradoxically, the answer to loneliness isn’t always found in the company of others. Tweens and teens with high self esteem know how to find fulfillment alone, and everyone needs some solo-time for rest and self-care. How much time alone is healthy? There’s no one-size-fits-all formula. It depends on the individual and what feels right to them. Tweens and teens can practice doing activities they enjoy by themselves, like making art, journaling or cooking. Reframe time alone as a chance to deepen your relationship with yourself and practice being your own best friend.

2. Look around for others who are lonely, too.

According to the Surgeon General, the U.S. is currently experiencing an epidemic of loneliness that affects all ages, genders, and other demographics. That means a lot of people are craving connection, so encourage tweens and teens to take the initiative and reach out to others. Is there someone at school who seems interesting but shy? A neighbor who lives alone and could use a hand with errands? Teach tweens and teens the power of giving what you want to receive. Each time they help someone else feel less lonely, they’ll build confidence and connection.

3. Tackle loneliness as a family.

Loneliness is not just an individual issue. Families these days tend to be smaller and live further apart from each other than in previous generations, which can leave everyone feeling isolated. Talk to your tween or teen about how you can build a stronger network of support that benefits the whole family. That might mean starting a neighborhood block party, inviting your crew for regular dinners or game nights, or volunteering together for a cause you care about. Make it a family goal to expand your circle of relationships so everyone can experience more meaningful connections.

4. Don’t compare yourself to others.

It’s normal for teens and tweens to compare their social lives to others’, but remember that we don’t see the whole truth from the outside. It may seem like everyone else is living their best life while you’re home alone, bored and scrolling through TikTok. But social media allows people to share only what they want to about themselves, so a lot of what we see is an illusion. If social media is increasing feelings of loneliness, take a break. Make in-person plans with a friend or family member, or do something that makes you feel good in the moment, like going for a walk in nature.

5. Pick a social goal and stick with it.

Because the adolescent brain is still developing, it’s harder for tweens and teens to put things into perspective. It really does feel like they’ll never make friends, or that they’ll always feel alone and awkward. To combat the tendency to catastrophize, pick one connection-related goal– like making a new friend, joining a club, or finding a volunteer opportunity– and stick with it. Break it down into micro-goals, figure out where they need your support, and celebrate every step. Each time tweens and teens take action to care for themselves, reach out to others, and strengthen relationships, they create a personalized blueprint for dealing with loneliness. Instead of fearing being alone, they learn how to proactively cultivate connection to themselves and others.

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