Is it a little bit extreme to start talking about mortality when it comes to teenagers?
It depends on how you look at it. Most counselors wouldn't give a second thought to offering health and fitness tips to an obese teen. By helping a teenager overcome his or her struggles with being overweight, you're helping extend the duration of their life. You're making an effort to improve their overall quality of life. So, when we say that loneliness is responsible for more death than being overweight is, forgive us for sounding like we're crowing that the sky is falling: The fact is, social isolation is deadlier than a lot of other prominent causes of early death, and the pattern of isolation begins in childhood, then solidified through the teen years and early adulthood.
Connecting to others provides us with a sense of relevance to the world. Sometimes it's easy to feel untethered from reality when you spend a whole day without talking to anyone. Some people spend weeks and months that way. Some people come to loathe spending time with others because they've spent their whole lives being disappointed by their social interactions.
More often than not, those individuals had unhappy childhoods.
But what if I told you that a life full of loneliness and a life full of smoking cigarettes are equally serious health risks?
Being lonely causes actual physical pain. It increases problems with the immune system and it leads to serious inflammation issues. Those problems can then lead to other serious conditions, from arthritis to diabetes, and on to a greater risk of cardiac problems. One of the problems with social isolation is that after the teen years, it's basically taboo to talk about.
Everyone assumes that teens and young adults must have so many friends and such active, fulfilling social lives. For many teens, that's simply not the case. That is why it is absolutely essential to develop the skills to properly socialize with others. These skills will go on to help individuals succeed in business, as well as in every relationship they will ever have. Being a good friend is its own reward.
But after the teen years, people use words like "loner" and "hermit" and "weirdo" and "creepy." The words that people use to describe socially isolated individuals are not nice. We assume that there is a reason they're alone. We assume that they're hiding something. Many lonely individuals want to be unnoticed by others, so that they can go unjudged.
A life lived without friendships is barely a life at all, if you ask me. I rely on my friends and I know they rely on me. I cultivate meaningful friendships that make me a stronger, better, and happier person. I don't do it for those reasons; those are just the side effects of having friends.
Some factors such as the internet are posing confusing questions to researchers when it comes to loneliness. Many studies indicate that people who spend the most time online are also the loneliest. But some people report that the internet is a vital connection to the outside world.
The fact is, that loneliness is always a symptom of a bigger problem.
What Can We Do About Loneliness in Teens?
There are a seemingly infinite array of magazines about health and fitness. There are magazines dedicated to eating healthy. But there are almost no dedicated communities out there to help individuals who don't have any or enough friends. Learning social skills after high school is increasingly difficult, and finding people to connect with can be even more problematic for people whose social skills are withering as they grow older.
Helping teens overcome shyness and develop the confidence to seek healthy, positive interactions with others will help them develop the skills they need to find friends for a lifetime.
As we see more and more people jump on the health and fitness bandwagon, we have discovered that people have an extraordinary reservoir of determination to make a positive physical transformation for their health. Unfortunately, we haven't seen a similar shift in mindset for individuals suffering from social isolation. That's why we need to do everything we can to encourage teenagers and young adults to seek mutually rewarding, happiness delivering friendships and relationships.
If you know someone who is suffering from depression or anxiety due to feelings of extreme isolation, Wingate Wilderness Therapy may be able to bring them out of their shell. Making friends doesn't have to be difficult. Failing to make friends can leave individuals susceptible to bullies and stigmatization, as well as lead to serious health problems later in life. Call 1-800-560-1599 to learn what kind of help may be available for your loved one.