“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people,” says researcher and author Brené Brown. “We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.” Belonging is important at every age, but it’s especially important for tweens and teens. Research shows that close, trusting relationships with family, friends, school and community protect youth mental health. Experiences of belonging also “raise our sense of well-being and self-worth, improve our performance, lessen our defensiveness and hostility… and make us more compassionate,”says Stanford psychology professor Geoffrey L. Cohen. Here’s how the science of belonging and connection can benefit your teen:
1. It’s the antidote to an epidemic of loneliness.
Three in five Americans suffer from loneliness, according to a recent survey by the Cigna Group. Even more troubling is that young adults aged 18-24 reported loneliness at twice the levels of older adults. “Chronic loneliness is as destructive to our bodies and health as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day,” says Geoffrey Cohen. High levels of loneliness correlate with deaths of despair– deaths caused by addiction to alcohol, painkillers or other drugs, or by suicide. Ultimately, researchers say these losses are attributable to the social pain of feeling disconnected. The more supportive connections teens have with family, friends and others, the bigger their safety net.
2. It nurtures teens’ sense of identity.
The most important job of the teen years is crafting an identity, or sense of self. Teens are figuring out who they are as individuals and where they fit with their family and society. But while identity is all about defining our individual selves, how we feel about ourselves depends almost entirely on our relationships with others. A recent study found that positive social relationships, social support and social acceptance help shape the development of self-esteem. In short, to feel good about themselves, teens need to know they matter to others.
3. It creates a neurological blueprint for positivity.
All sources of connection, from close relationships to everyday interactions with acquaintances and strangers, contribute to the development of the teenage brain. In the book Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, researcher Daniel Goleman writes, “Even our most routine encounters act as regulators in the brain, priming our emotions, some desirable, others not. The more strongly connected we are with someone emotionally, the greater the mutual force.” When teens have multiple resources for kindness, care and support, their brains develop neural pathways for positive emotions like confidence, security and compassion.
4. It helps them be more authentic.
To feel a sense of belonging, teens need to know they are loved for who they are, including all of their imperfections. Tweens and teens often think that they have to fit in to belong, but as Brené Brown writes in The Gifts of Imperfection, “Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging… doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.” When teens know they belong no matter what, it gives them the courage to be more authentic in every situation. They can own their strength and vulnerability, their triumphs and struggles, and all the qualities that make them unique.
Want to make sure your teen gets the benefits of belonging and connection? Lucero is a safe space for teens and tweens to just be themselves and connect with others who radically support them. Teens can invite up to seven friends and family members to join them on their self-care journey. Crew members cheer each other on, support each other on the hard days, and grow connections with themselves and each other. Lucero is the most fun and engaging wellness app for emotional regulation, with bite-sized activities that are co-created with youth, backed by clinical therapists, and take just a few minutes each day.